BP, Cubs, Sox downplaying new cup trophyJune 9, 2010LEWIS LAZARE llazare@ suntimes.com
Timing, as they say, is everything. And for the White Sox, Cubs and their new crosstown series trophy, it couldn’t be worse.
Just before the start of Friday’s game opening the annual crosstown series, representatives from the two teams are expected to gather at Wrigley Field to unveil the BP Crosstown Cup. Yes, you read that right. That’s “BP,” as in the global oil company at the center of the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico that has riveted — and appalled — most of America and the world for more than a month and a half.
White Sox’ Gordon Beckham (from left), Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, Cubs manager Lou Piniella, and Cubs Marlon Byrd and Randy Wells at the unveiling of the new BP Crosstown Classic logo at Millenium Park in April.
(Jean Lachat/Sun-Times file)
In a three-year deal announced April 26, less than a week after the deep-sea leak began with the explosion of an oil rig leased by BP, the oil giant agreed to sponsor the trophy that will go to the winner of the series each season. With BP’s problems in the Gulf having been front-page news for weeks, the Cubs and the White Sox are introducing the BP Cup with much less pomp and circumstance than they might have originally planned, even though it is the only sponsored cup of its kind in Major League Baseball.
“We’re trying to stand behind our sponsor, but at the same time be respectful of what’s happening off the ballfield,” Cubs spokesman Kevin Saghy said. A BP spokesman did not return a call seeking comment, but representatives from both the Cubs and Sox said it was their understanding that BP’s planned promotion of the newly minted cup — a three-foot trophy of brass with a sterling silver overlay that took local jeweler Howard Kaplan three months to create — has been scaled way back in the wake of the oil rig explosion.
By the same token, BP has not moved at the last minute to remove its name from the cup or try to void the sponsorship agreement. Sports-marketing experts believe that would have been a mistake anyway.
“It would look a lot worse if they suddenly pulled out of the deal,” said Brad Back, a senior vice president with 361 Degree Experiential, a Chicago-based sports-marketing firm. Back said BP, with all the image problems it’s facing, still could use the cup sponsorship, in some small way, to help resurrect its badly battered image.
“BP could tone everything down a bit and make this cup more about a big corporation showing interest in the local community,” explained Back.
Other sports-marketing experts believe the cup sponsorship might look a lot better to BP — and the Cubs and Sox — in a year or two.
“If BP manages to get everything under control in the Gulf, it could come back a year from now and use the BP Cup as a great platform to help get out the message that they have successfully handled the problem,” said Jim Biegalski, a Chicago-based senior vice president in the sponsorship consulting group for the Marketing Arm.
But right now, that’s a mighty big “if” for BP.
Yes, THAT BP.