One of the nation's largest health systems and a supplier of X-ray film hitched a ride into history last week on the ball that St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire smashed for his record-breaking 62nd home run of the season.
BJC Health System of St. Louis and Konica Corp. of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., had the good fortune to secure billboards near left field, where McGwire's hit became the homer that toppled Roger Maris' 37-year-old record.
Besides giving the companies an immediate lift from near-saturation of the television airwaves, the image-building ads will live on in replays as long as there are nostalgic baseball fans and new challengers to the major league home run crown.
"You know there will be highlight shows created, retrospectives on the 1998 baseball season, and they will always show this footage of the 62nd home run," said Bill Croasdale, an executive with Western International Media, a media management firm in Los Angeles. "Those advertisers that had those signs . . . will always get a nice plug."
This year BJC began a five-year corporate sponsorship of the hometown baseball team that made the 11-hospital system the official healthcare provider to the more than 1,100 employees of the St. Louis Cardinals, including the players.
"Lucky us, we happened to pick a year that will go down in history," said Tess Niehaus, director of communications and marketing for BJC.
Citing a confidentiality agreement with the Cardinals, Niehaus declined to say how much the sponsorship cost BJC.
McGwire's home run parade has consistently packed Busch Stadium in St. Louis in an otherwise disappointing season for the Cardinals. So Niehaus figures McGwire may have as much as doubled the number of fans seeing BJC's messages.
The ads seem to be paying off. Phone calls to a BJC physician referral line featured in signs around the stadium are up about 10% over a year ago, running about 3,000 calls a month, Niehaus said. BJC hasn't otherwise promoted the referral number except for an ad campaign that ended before the baseball season began, she said.
For Konica's medical division, the publicity has been a happily received hand-me-down. The Busch Stadium sign was paid for by Konica's office equipment division, which makes fax and copy machines.
"We've had phone calls galore from people saying `Did you see the Konica sign?' " said Dennis Puccio, marketing communications manager for Konica Medical Corp., Wayne, N.J. "It was a great event; and even if it's by accident, it works for us."