Two weeks before opening day and I'm again at Tropicana Field, where Tampa Bay Rays marketing execs unveil this season's ad campaign and slogan.
Will it be snappy? Classy? Edgy? Or maybe silly?
The 2012 crop of slogans across Major League Baseball range broadly. The best the Houston Astros could come up with is "Root! Root! Root!" At least it's easy to remember.
A more cocky Washington Nationals team boasts both edge and attitude, or, as the team says, "Natitude." Get it?
The Chicago White Sox picked the more urbane "Appreciate the game." I can't help but finish saying that with an "— or else." And the scrappy Oakland Athletics are sticking with its "Green Collar Baseball," though I'm hard-pressed to tell you what that means.
This is the first season the Rays went strictly with in-house expertise. They skipped the outside ad agency and conjured up their own campaign.
This year's slogan? A rotating theme based on the word "Experience."
The first print ad runs Thursday and features an image of Rays manager Joe Maddon and third baseman Evan Longoria in mid hug with the words "Experience: History." Another ad in the series will feature a little girl running the bases with the message "Experience: Fun." Still more ads in the six-month campaign will link "Experience" with words like "Excitement" or "Anticipation" or "Hysteria."
The first TV ad runs Monday. It's a 16-second retelling of last season's astonishing game 162. Down 7-0 to the New York Yankees, the Rays rallied and, thanks to Dan Johnson and Longoria home runs, won 8-7 to claim a wild card slot in the playoffs in the last possible moments of the regular season.
The overall slogan is "Experience the Rays." The campaign extends to radio and billboards. Increasingly, the Rays are pushing into social media sites ranging from Facebook and Twitter to FourSquare, Yelp and (particularly to reach women) the pinboard-styled, image-sharing site Pinterest.
"Fans go to the ballpark for hundreds of different reasons," says Tom Hoof, the Rays' veteran advertising chief. "This is all about the experience of the ballpark."
Hoof and marketing chief Mark Fernandez acknowledge the preseason hyperbuzz — from the return of Carlos Peña to the full-time addition of rookie pitching sensation Matt Moore — far exceeds last year's flat opening in a season when so many top players left.
Opening day this year sold out earlier than usual — no surprise given it's against the popular New York Yankees.
Sponsorships, season ticket purchases and interest in the Trop's suites? They are all up this year.
As the Rays continue to compete against and often outplay vastly richer teams, especially in the American League Eastern Division, the team's image only grows as an overperforming underdog.
So do the stories.
Fernandez tells how his neighbor took a Rays-adorned garden gnome to last year's historic game 162 only to see the Yankees soar to a big lead. Convinced the gnome was bad luck, he left early only to hear the Rays rally. On the way home, he stopped on a bridge to pitch the gnome into the sea. The Rays won.
Experience: The Gnome.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]