Friday, April 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Take me out to the backyard

Scotts Miracle-Gro has teamed up with the Phillies and other teams to sell the grass seed blends used at Major League Baseball park.

Take me out to the backyard

Anyone who’s listened to a Philadelphia Phillies radio broadcast this season has heard the commercial for a grass seed that’s the same as the one used at the team’s ballpark.

It’s catchy because rather than hearing players Jimmy Rollins or Ryan Howard pitching for the seed, you hear from Citizens Bank Ballpark’s head groundskeeper, Mike Boekholder.

And it’s all part of a multiyear deal between lawn-care behemoth Scotts Miracle-Gro Inc. and Major League Baseball that was struck in January. It’s a sponsorship, licensing and advertising package that’s led to Scotts being “Official Lawn Care Company of Major League Baseball.”

Thus, Scotts has joined Frito Lay (Official Snack Chip), Taco Bell (Official Quick Service Restaurant) and 15 other official-something sponsors of MLB.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever bought anything because it was the official anything of anybody. But Scotts has hit on something even better: Giving baseball fans in five metro regions the opportunity to plant the same grass seed blends used by their hometown baseball team.

Besides Citizens Bank Park, the other participating “sandlots” are Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field, St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.

Life will never imitate art in my case. Even if I spent all of my non-Inquirer hours tending my lawn, it would never look like that Kentucky blue grass outfield down in South Philadelphia.

Just last weekend, a door-to-door lawn-care salesman tried to talk to me about what his company could do. “Don’t you want to do something about the weeds in your lawn?” he said.

“No, that’s what’s keeping it green,” I said.

But plenty of others must be buying into the allure of spending $20 to $45 per bag of Citizens Bank Park to plant their own field of dreams.

David Buck, the Phillies’ senior vice president of marketing and advertising, wouldn’t talk about specific dollar amounts involved in the team’s partnership with Scotts. But he said that Scotts had said the Citizens Bank Park blend was the No. 1 seller among the baseball blends as of about 10 days ago.

But make no mistake, this is a niche product for Scotts, which began selling grass seed in 1907 and is now the dominant company in the lawn-care business. About $2.5 billion of Scotts’ $3.1 billion in net sales last year came from its global consumer segment, which sells grass seed, lawn fertilizer, different types of soil, and pesticides.

Between 70 percent and 75 percent of those annual sales occur during the six-month period ending June 30. And Scotts spends big time on advertising to move those bags you see at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart - its three biggest customers.

According to its annual report, Scotts spent $141.2 million on advertising in its fiscal year ended Sept. 30. Scotts executives told analysts on a recent conference call they expect to spend 15 to 20 percent more on advertising for its consumer segment this year.

That’s been great for the Phillies club, which was happy to add Scotts to the 80 sponsors it now has. “It’s actually fairly clever by Scotts to do this,” Buck said.

Baseball, like golf, is one of those sports where the spectator has time to watch the grass grow after all. Time enough to marvel over the patterns cut into the outfield or envy the emerald hue and wonder how it would look in the backyard.

Scotts buys radio and television advertising from the Phillies. It paid to have its logo emblazoned on the tarp cover along the third-base side of the infield and on the rakes and shirts of the grounds crew.

And like any licensed Phillies product, including hats and jerseys, the team gets a share of the sales of grass seed and fertilizer. There are other non-apparel licensed Phillies brand products: Phillies Franks by Hatfield Quality Meats and Phillies Graham Slam ice cream by Turkey Hill Dairy.

Scotts says that it has other “club-specific products” in development. While there are 30 major-league teams, it might be hard to convince fans in Toronto and Tampa Bay to splurge on ballpark grass seed when their teams are the last ones to be playing on artificial turf.

But I wouldn’t put it past Scotts to try.

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
About this blog
Mike Armstrong blogs about Philadelphia corporations and business-related topics. Contact him at 215-854-2980. Reach Mike at marmstrong@phillynews.com.

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
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