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Baseball faces sponsorship crisis as yet another strike looms

LOS ANGELES - The grand old game of baseball is in all kinds of trouble. Viewers are quitting their screens, players are set to strike and sponsors are talking about abandoning the game.

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Earlier this month, players voted to go on strike from August 30 and baseball fans are not happy, with viewing figures plummeting from 4.2m to just 3m. Fox alone lost 33% of its audience after the strike decision became known.

Baseball, as any fan knows, is a game that is all about numbers -- batting averages and pitching strikes and balls. These numbers speak for themselves. Not to mention the added statistic that this is the ninth Major League Baseball strike since 1972.

Industry watchers are predicting that the latest strike will be a long one and, for some long-term sponsors, it is time to rethink their commitment to the troubled sport.

There is talk from the likes of PepsiCo of moving its money to other sports such as football, while Viagra plans to mothball its ads featuring Texas Ranger star Rafael Palmeiro for the duration of the strike.

Another sponsor thinking of re-evaluating its relationship with the game is electronics store Radio Shack, which was among 18 firms that contributed $170m (£112m) for the right to use baseball trademarks in their marketing activity.

According to a spokesman for Radio Shack, speaking to the LA Times: "Frankly, the senior vice-president of advertising and marketing told me there would be reluctance to renew."

Miller Brewing, for which baseball has been a major platform of its marketing for years, has a range of marketing activities including close ties with the Milwaukee Brewers -- the team's stadium is named Miller Park.

Miller is worried that as the strike moves ahead, stadium regulars on which it relies will not come back afterwards. If the fans do not come back there is not much mileage in sponsoring a stadium in its home town of Milwaukee or anywhere else.

For now, there is little that can be done in terms of TV advertising. Most of the air time is pre-sold and the networks are saying that around 85% of baseball slots are already sold.

MasterCard too has a problem on its hand. It has spent big time on a baseball promotion to get fans to name their favourite moments of the game and now there may not even be a World Series. All MasterCard is hoping is that the strike will go away, but apparently the credit card firm does have a plan B, which it is keeping quiet.

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