- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

The centerpiece of the Baltimore Orioles' new ad campaign is a .236 hitter claimed off the minor league scrap heap who spent much of last year on the disabled list.
Jay Gibbons is the Orioles' new media star. Cal Ripken has indeed left the building.
Gibbons is an up-and-coming player who very well may become a linchpin in the Orioles' slow rebuilding. But the unlikely image of him bashing the B&O; Warehouse with towering home runs, as he does in one TV spot, shows the lengths to which the club is going to redefine its image in the post-Cal era.
The process actually began last year when the Orioles and their ad agency, Baltimore-based Trahan, Burden & Charles, produced a series of spots featuring the team's stable of youngsters. "The Kids Are Comin' To Play" was the theme of the light-hearted campaign, and when the Orioles reached Memorial Day with a better-than-expected 24-24 record, a feeling was building that there actually was some truth in the advertising.
Then the season drastically changed twice. First, Ripken announced in mid-June that 2001 would be his final season. The move created an instant farewell tour that boosted the Orioles' final attendance to a better-than-expected 3.1 million and took all attention off the young players. And the team mailed in the final half of the season, limping to a 63-98 record.
This year there is no Cal or Brady Anderson, and there is nowhere for the kids to hide. The Orioles' fate rests squarely on the shoulders of pitcher Sidney Ponson, second baseman Jerry Hairston, utility man Gibbons and the rest of the team's under-30 crowd.
The stakes, of course, are serious. New York is loaded, as usual, and Boston has a healthy Pedro Martinez. And the Baltimore management desperately wants to reach at least 3 million in total attendance. Only once, in the strike-shortened 1994 season, has that not happened in Camden Yards' 10-year history.
Already attendance has fallen four straight years. And local TV ratings for the O's have dropped for three straight. And though the Orioles have sold 1.75 million tickets for 2002 before a pitch is thrown a sum several contraction bubble teams would covet for a full season the club will need to move another 16,000 tickets a home game to stop the slide.
Enter the "Give Us An 'O'" campaign. In one ad, the entire team lines up at the stadium gate like eager-beaver children to get the day's ticket giveaway. In another, outfielders Jeff Conine and Chris Richard manually measure a Conine home run, lamenting the lack of respect from a scoreboard operator posting the shot's distance. A third features actor Josh Charles, best known from ABC's "Sports Night" and son of TBC creative director Allan Charles, as a straightlaced marketing director feverishly producing Hairston bobbleheads.
"We've admitted we're rebuilding. We know we have a lot of new faces around here," said Matt Dryer, Orioles director of sales. "These are people we want fans to get to know, and these ads, I think, show a real humanistic side to this group."
Will it work? Even Charles acknowledges his ads hold nowhere near the marketing power of a winning team. And wins, as they have been every season since the wire-to-wire run of 1997, probably will be few and far between again.
But if talent and ability to compete remain in question, Charles and team officials insist likability among the Orioles is not. Nowhere in the bunch is there a malcontent like Albert Belle or a more aloof veteran like Anderson or Mike Mussina. That, in turn, should make it easier to sell the public on the Orioles, even if another 98 losses await.
"I've been working with the Orioles a very long time, and this is an incredibly approachable group of guys," Charles said. "They understand marketing. They understand the need to connect with the public. They understand how this all works and why it needs to happen.
"I never did an ad with Cal [who has his own marketing agency]. I did ads with his parents, his brother, but never with him. It's different now. There's no one name dominating the Orioles. This is a true team," he said.
Just don't count on any real baseballs breaking warehouse windows.


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