Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Marc Ecko and Barry Bonds -- a $750,000 PR stunt bares a shared trait

When hip hop designer Marc Ecko bought Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball last September in an online auction, only to turn it around on his web site and ask if it should be marked with an asterisk, I thought it was the most brilliant PR stunt of the year, if not the most expensive. It cost Ecko $752,467 to buy the ball, and for that kind of money, you could buy a nice house in a ritzy suburb.

Now that the ball was delivered today to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY for one last media coverage rush, I'm not quite sure in the end what the point of it all was, especially for that kind of price.

Ecko offered a poll on his web site: what should he do with the ball -- give it to the Hall of Fame with an asterisk, give it to the Hall untouched, or launch it into space? It didn't matter what the result was -- 10 million people voted on his web site. Ecko was interviewed on national TV, newspapers and wire services about what he planned on doing with the ball. When Barry Bonds called Ecko an "idiot," another surge of press came rushing in.

Now first the mea culpa: my agency handled Marc Ecko Enterprises' PR for a one year engagement around 2003 - 2004. In that time, the only sport I had seen Ecko show any interest in was NJ Nets basketball, where he had a courtside seat at every game.

Certainly a huge hats off to the person who thought to buy the Bonds ball, whether it was Ecko, his public relations VP, an agency, or a friend. Nobody in the press had to ask Ecko even if he followed baseball -- they were just impressed with the huge wad of money he forked over, and the reasoning behind his little poll.

But when you come right down to it, how did this very expensive stunt help Marc Ecko Enterprises? How many more people bought his hoodies or tees because he won the Barry Bonds ball auction? Did any new partners or investors come forth because he had the fate of Barry Bonds' ball in his hands?

Perhaps that was never the goal. Perhaps this may have been a way for Ecko to create a legacy for himself as the man who bought the ball, asked the fans what to do with it, and then donated into the Hall of Fame branded with an asterisk.

One can't help feel that way when reading today's New York Times account, which featured this information not carried on the AP wire story (italics are mine)...

She [Ecko's spokeswoman] said an asterisk was laser-cut into the ball above the Major League logo by a master engraver and that the ball was delivered in a specially designed glass case. The case includes the details of how Ecko decided to plant an asterisk on the ball... Although the ball is in a case, Baker says Ecko understands the Hall may remove it and display it as it sees fit.

This says to me that Ecko wanted to write himself into the Hall of Fame (for a sport I'm not even quite sure he really pays attention to), which seems not too subtly ego-driven to me. Then again, an apt reflection of the man who hit the ball. Perhaps fate really did bring these two together.

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