Scotts strikes sponsorship deal with baseball

By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The No. 1 U.S. lawn care company is staking out new turf by offering baseball fans a chance to replicate the lush, green playing fields of such iconic ballparks as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in their own yards as part of a sponsorship deal.

ScottsMiracle-Gro Co has signed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar sponsorship with Major League Baseball that includes licensed products such as grass seeds and fertilizers, baseball-themed advertising, in-park signage and partnerships with several teams.

Terms were not disclosed, but a source close to the deal said Scotts' annual commitments are in the high seven figures. The source, who asked not to be identified, said overall annual spending on baseball will be in the eight-figure range.

Baseball trumpets the deal as a move into a new product segment it has been pursuing for the last four to six years in a sponsorship market battered by the weak economy, while Scotts sees it as a move to strengthen its brand and boost sales.

"It's a powerful feeling when you walk through the concourse and see that emerald green field in front of you," Scotts Brand Manager John Price said of entering a ballpark.

"I don't mean to get 'Field of Dreams'-ish, but it's a powerful emotion for consumers and really tapping into that emotion and showing off what Scotts products can do, there's no better product showcase," he told Reuters.

The MLB deal is the largest and most integrated sports sponsorship for the Marysville, Ohio-based company, known for its Miracle-Gro, Ortho and Roundup brands. Scotts also has deals with NASCAR and the University of Florida sports program.

Price said there is a large overlap between Scotts customers and baseball's fan base. He said the sport could even help expand the U.S. lawn-care market, which totaled $9.6 billion in 2008, according to the National Gardening Association.

Sports leagues and teams have been hurt over the past year as corporate sports marketing budgets declined. In 2008, such companies as General Motors Co, Bank of America Corp and Deutsche Post AG's DHL unit walked away from some team-level sponsor deals after they expired, but the league stemmed the losses last year.

"The sponsorship environment is flat out tougher than it ever has been in the last 10 years," said Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president of business. "This speaks volumes about the health of our brand."

Brosnan said MLB expects sponsorship revenue this season to rise by double digits on a percentage basis.

Under the deal, Scotts in early April will begin selling grass seed blends and fertilizers featured in such iconic ballparks as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, the respective homes of the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, as well as venues in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

If the initial products sell well, others will be rolled out down the road, Price said.

In addition to licensed products, Scotts also negotiated sponsorship agreements with eight teams -- the ones whose names are on the seed products as well as the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Texas Rangers.

Scotts also has made a "significant" media commitment to MLB's national broadcast partners to run TV and radio advertisements around the product launch, while MLB and team logos will be featured prominently on a wide range of the company's in-store marketing materials.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Matthew Lewis and Maureen Bavdek)