Baseball / Sports

All-Star Game voting makes for strange alliances

Early Sunday afternoon, before Major League Baseball announced its All-Star rosters, the Cubs and White Sox were busy scheming for the two players who still had a chance to make a team via MLB's Final Vote.

For the Cubs, that meant Anthony Rizzo. For the Sox, Chris Sale.

Each team had a clear plan: Develop a brand -- in this case Vote Rizzo and Target Sale -- and figure out how to promote it. Then find a friend to help the cause.

Even in the tight-lipped world of MLB, where there are few allies, exceptions are made for the All-Star Game.

As soon as Final Vote candidates are revealed to MLB clubs, there's a mad dash to partner between leagues.

"There's a short window to figure out that alliance," Kevin Saghy, the Cubs communications manager, said. "It is a fun dynamic once you realize what's out there."

For a player to win the Final Vote, fans cast ballots online, through text messages and, within the last six hours of voting, via Twitter. Voting ends at 3 p.m. Thursday.

That gives teams less than 41/2 days to promote their could-be All-Star.

"It's real-time marketing," said Matthew Gould, vice president of corporate communications with MLB Advanced Media. "It's unlike anything else."

So the Cubs and Sox on Sunday were reaching out to other teams in the same position: The Braves, Marlins, Nationals and Rockies in the NL and Angels, Astros, Indians and Tigers in the AL have candidates in the Final Vote.

In 2009, the Tigers and Phillies were the first to join forces to get the vote out, in that case for Shane Victorino and Brandon Inge, figuring that as long as each team's fans had to vote for a player in the opposite league, it might as well be their guy. They came up with the hashtag "BranTorino" to get both markets involved in the balloting. That led to Inge and Victorino winning, thus starting a trend that has become vital to the voting process.

After checking with other teams, the Sox linked with the Nationals, who promised to help their cause as long as the South Siders pump up Anthony Rendon for the NL vote. Meanwhile, the Cubs joined forces with the Tigers in exchange for promoting Rick Porcello's AL bid.

"We've had a relationship with the Nationals," White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez said. "It came together in a couple of hours."

With the Cubs and Sox on the road during voting, finding a partner with a homestand was imperative. The easiest way to engage an audience is to have its attention for two to four hours every day.

"That was the strategy," said Hernandez, who alluded to the Nationals' reach in Maryland and Virginia as well as Washington. "It was critical to find a partner that was home."

The partner also needed to have a strong social-media presence. The Cubs and Tigers combine for roughly 798,000 Twitter followers -- the most of any alliance this year -- while the Sox and Nationals have 390,000 followers between them.

But if any team has experience with the Final Vote, it's the Sox. Sale is the team's 11th candidate for the Final Vote since it was added to the All-Star Game in 2002; three of the first 10 won the vote. Rizzo is the Cubs' fourth candidate; he would be their first winner.

That the teams aren't partnering only adds to the rivalry between Chicago fans.

"It certainly was considered," Saghy said of teaming with the Sox. "(But) we thought this could be a fun way to stoke that rivalry as well."

It wasn't that the Sox and Cubs were looking to stay away from each other; they just understood that many of their fans feel strongly about the rivalry and voting for the other player would be tough.

"The player has to make sense," Saghy said. "With Porcello and Rizzo there are similarities there. Both are on Midwest teams. They have broad appeal with different fan bases. We're going to have some fun with that with the Tigers."

After the first day of balloting, Rizzo was in second place behind the Rockies' Justin Morneau. Sale was leading the AL vote.

All of the groundwork over the first three days of voting leads to a six-hour marketing blitz for a Twitter vote just before Thursday's cutoff. The Twitter vote accounted for 13 percent of the final results last year.

"There's no magic bullet here," Hernandez said. "There's a playbook, but we have to keep our heads on a swivel."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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