DETROIT-On Aug. 9, just three days before the impending Major League Baseball players' strike, Joe Kachman sat in a comfortable Detroit Tiger Stadium box seat. It was the bottom of the sixth, the bases were loaded and theTigers' Cecil Fielder was up.
Mr. Kachman watched with a little more interest than most diehard Tigers fans. After all, as Mr. Fielder's home run sailed over the fence, Mr. Kachman knew he was $25,000 richer.
Mr. Kachman became the first, and possibly the last, winner of the Metro 25 Tire Grand Slam Inning contest this season-depending, of course, on the length of the baseball players strike.
He had his registration ticket randomly drawn after visiting a Metro 25-Ode Tire store in Warren, Mich. Under the rules of the Metro 25 contest, he received two box seat tickets to a Tigers home game and was eligible to receive $25,000 if a Tiger hit a grand slam in the sixth inning.
The promotion helps tout the Metro 25 name, said Duane Rao, president of the Metro 25 Tire cooperative.
Metro 25 signs hung in Detroit stadiums and arenas are shown during locally and nationally televised Tigers, Lions, Pistons and Red Wings games.
Coupled with a number of game ``days'' and promotions like the Grand Slam Inning, the co-op's sports marketing effort has helped the Metro 25 name become one of the most recognized in the Detroit area, Mr. Rao said.
``The sports market is a long term investment,'' he said. ``When we started Metro 25 in Detroit in 1981, we were the new guy on the block. What we wanted to do was put our name out and get it recognized with some of the big teams around town, knowing that it would take five to 10 years to go from brand new to being totally recognized.''
The sports marketing program, which accounts for about 15 percent of the company's total advertising budget, has improved name recognition, according to Metro 25 focus groups, Mr. Rao explained.
Still, it is a continuing effort to keep that name in front of potential customers and to convince tire dealers the money is well spent.
``The problem with sports marketing is the customer doesn't walk into your store the next day and say, `Hey, I saw you at theLions' game and that's why I'm here,'' Mr. Rao said. ``So the dealers don't necessarily feel it immediately or don't know how many people come because of that. And that's the tough thing to swallow for a tire dealer.
``We are all used to making it work by throwing an ad in Sunday's paper, and then Monday at noon you can tell how the ad worked. That's the tire business.''
But Mr. Rao is convinced enough of the power of sports marketing to continue the Michigan Group's contract with the Detroit Lions this year.
Even the possibility of a season-ending baseball strike can't limit the effects of Metro 25's sports marketing program, Mr. Rao said, noting the contract allows the firm to keep the money that would have been spent on ads during canceled games.
That's just as well, he contends, in a season when the Tigers are 19 games out of first place.