The Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch
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The Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch

For SBC Communications, the grand opening of Pacific Bell Park presented a dual opportunity: be a major part of the colorful history of the San Francisco Giants and reinforce brand attributes that make the company unique and distinctive to its broad and l

Paul Holmes

 

For SBC Communications, the grand opening of Pacific Bell Park presented a dual opportunity: be a major part of the colorful history of the San Francisco Giants and reinforce brand attributes that make the company unique and distinctive to its broad and loyal base of customers.  The challenge was to creatively and strategically leverage a business investment of $54 million for the Park's naming rights, within, arguably, the most competitive telecommunications marketplace in the country and during a period when Pacific Bell needed positive brand awareness more than ever.

With the Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch, SBC met that challenge – celebrating the opening of baseball’s newest ballpark, solidifying customer relationships, and highlighting Pacific Bell’s long-standing, corporate citizenship, all while delivering the fun and excitement of Opening Day to thousands of people throughout Northern and Central California and Nevada.

On September 30, 1999, Willie Mays threw out the ceremonial last pitch marking the end of the Giants’ final game at 3Com Park.  That same baseball, later to be named Stitches through a national contest, traveled on the 16-city Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch road trip through Northern and Central California and Nevada beginning in February 2000.  Thousands of people had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of baseball history by pitching and catching Stitches.  

Events in each city included a Pitch Relay – a mile-long relay throw of “THE” ball – winding through each city, concluding at a local park for a free Pacific Bell Park FanFest.  The ball eventually returned to San Francisco for the final Pitch Relay across home plate on Opening Day, April 11, 2000, after traveling more than 3,000 miles and being thrown by more than 25,000 fans across California and Nevada.  

Planning 

The Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch was designed as a regional brand-building effort to proactively and positively position Pacific Bell in the minds of media, current and potential customers, and employees, demonstrating that Pacific Bell is a company with a distinct local heritage and a reputation for being a solid corporate citizen, while at the same time maintaining its reputation as a global telecommunications leader.  

     It was also important that the entire program reflect the strategic business objectives behind the company’s decision to purchase the naming and sponsorship rights for Pacific Bell Park.

Objectives:

  • Strengthen Pacific Bell’s brand appeal
  • Demonstrate its philanthropic commitment
  • Foster employee pride in Pacific Bell Park
  • Build excitement for the Park opening among fans, customers and employees in target markets

Strategies:

  • Directly involve target audiences in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of baseball history
  • Reach a large audience of media, employees and customers by targeting 16 markets throughout Northern and Central California and Nevada
  • Incorporate a community fundraising element to showcase Pacific Bell’s philanthropic commitment
  • Create and subsequently capitalize on a wide variety of media relations opportunities – before, during and after the Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch

Audience:

  • National and local print and broadcast media
  • Giants fans and baseball fans throughout California and Nevada
  • Pacific Bell customers and employees
  • Host-city officials and residents

Research 

In today’s competitive business environment, and particularly the telecommunications industry, brand building is more important than ever before.  The company’s competitive brand analysis showed in the telecommunications sector, the most important attributes to consumers are:  customer focus, familiarity, market leadership, top-of-mind awareness, globally hi-tech, and corporate citizenship.  The Pacific Bell Giant Park Pitch was designed to enhance recognition of the company among customers on all these fronts.

Execution

After months of planning, the Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch successfully kicked off in Sacramento on February 5, 2000.  

The success of this road trip relied on simultaneous planning and execution by FH, Pacific Bell and the San Francisco Giants on a daily basis.  Planning encompassed such areas as media relations, event logistics, volunteer coordination, merchandising, advertising, materials development, ticket processing and grassroots community outreach.  

The program had to appeal to a variety of distinct audiences – Pacific Bell, the Giants, host-city governments and media.

A national “Name the Ball” contest generated over 2,500 entries, providing consumers a chance to vote to name this historic baseball.

Consecutive events were orchestrated in 16 cities over a nine-week period, each requiring full-time attention to specific city issues, planning and coordination, as well as dedicated media and community outreach with customized materials.

Each of the more than 16 Pacific Bell representatives who served as event spokespeople in their respective markets received extensive media training to ensure consistent delivery of key messages.

Outdoor events were held during the winter months, forcing the team to plan for and endure extreme weather conditions.

The team designed and maintained public communication tools, including a dedicated Web page and a toll-free number, 1-877-TO-PITCH.

A community fundraiser was held in each city by selling a limited number of spots in the Pitch Relay, giving participants special-edition memorabilia for their contribution.

An aggressive grassroots campaign was conducted in each market to involve local organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs.

Sneak-preview events were held for Pacific Bell employees before the road trip started, as well as a special Pitch Relay at the State Capitol for the First Lady and state legislators.

Measurement of Success 

After traveling 3,000 miles on the Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch road trip, Stitches had been pitched by 25,000 fans.

In an effort to judge whether the program, produced the desired effect, consumers were surveyed in May 2000, focusing on the correlation between positive feelings/images of Pacific Bell with the opening of Pacific Bell Park.  The program:

1. Strengthening Pacific Bell’s brand appeal.  Each event provided brand-building opportunities through prominently displayed Pacific Bell signage which reinforced the “Home Team” message, on-site displays and DSL demonstrations, and branded giveaways.  VIP access allowed the company to host customers and city officials, strengthening important relationships.

Ownership of the park’s naming rights also provided added value, as stated in the San Francisco Chronicle (10/1/00), “…Pacific Bell benefits from increased brand awareness every time a TV camera lingers on the big Pac Bell logo, a radio announcer works a game at Pac Bell Park and newspaper and magazine game stories emanate from the ballpark.”

Research showed Pacific Bell’s financial support for Pacific Bell Park increased people’s positive perception of the company by 18%

71% of Northern Californians felt Pacific Bell Park continues the baseball tradition started at Candlestick Park (81% of Giants fans)

69% felt the Park shows San Francisco in a positive light to the rest of the country

2. Demonstrating Pacific Bell’s philanthropic commitment. The program raised more than $100,000 for youth sports programs in California and Nevada, including a $5,000 donation from Pacific Bell to each of the 16 cities.  The survey revealed: 60% agreed Pacific Bell’s financial support for the ballpark demonstrates its local commitment

3. Fostering employee pride in Pacific Bell Park.  Letters, memos, emails and verbal responses from employees indicated that they felt good about the company’s participation in such a high-profile and important community event.

Over 4,000 employees attended the sneak preview employee event

More than 700 employees staffed events

4. Build excitement for the Park opening among fans, customers and employees in target markets.  Aggressive media outreach in every road trip city generated national and extensive regional coverage.  More than 150 broadcast stories aired on every major network, and more than 40 stories ran in major daily newspapers throughout Northern California and Nevada, including CBS “The Early Show” and USA Today.

Among Northern Californians, 62% read or heard about the Park opening, 34% about the Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch, and 16% about Stitches the baseball

Awareness levels of the Park’s opening increased 22% between January and May 2000

Awareness of Pacific Bell Park’s opening was equal to that of other major Pacific Bell initiatives such as the launch of DSL, long distance and rate increases

 Even among people who don’t normally follow the Giants, 19% would attend a game in the new ballpark if they could get tickets
The Giant Pacific Bell Park Pitch concluded on Opening Day, April 11, 2000, with Stitches being put on permanent display at Pacific Bell Park for all the fans to see and remember the part they – and Pacific Bell -- played in Giants baseball history.

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