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Marlins’ Wilson scores with kids’ charity on Web

By Jeffery D. Zbar
Sun-Sentinel, Your Business

August 13, 2001

The television commercial opens with Preston Wilson running back to catch a fly ball. As the announcer chatters on, the camera pulls back to show local television sports director Jimmy Cefalo sitting with his notebook perched in his lap.

Cefalo tells Wilson he’s logging on to WPLG-Ch. 10’s Click10.com Web site to bid on some autographed Preston Wilson memorabilia, proceeds from which will support Preston’s Pals, the center fielder’s new charitable cause for local children.

The ad, which debuted Aug. 9, is the first public service announcement supporting the new marketing and charitable effort from Wilson. It is airing locally on WPLG, with spots on WQAM-AM radio and ads in local newspapers.

The charity ties in Wilson, the stations, and an on-line auction of collectible memorabilia being hosted by on-line auction site at eBay. Up for sale are 20 signed baseballs and ‘‘30-30’’ bats celebrating Wilson’s 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the 2000 season.

Visitors to the site also can bid on ‘‘Preston Experiences,’’ a series of personal lunch dates, back-yard visits and game-day appearances with Wilson. The on-line auction also is being cross-promoted on Click10.com. Proceeds benefit Newspapers in Education, Adopt a Classroom and Healthy Families Florida.

All along, Wilson has supported local charities and bought tickets for underprivileged children to home games.

The goal with his new program is to support local charities, while also boosting the players’ marketing experience and promotional prowess, said Scott Becher, president of Sports & Sponsorships, Wilson’s Coral Gables-based sports endorsement, licensing and community relations agency. Already, Verizon Wireless and Volkswagen are sponsors of the charity program. The television appearances, weekly talk show programs, and commercial endorsements will help prepare Wilson for more national media efforts, Becher said.

‘‘These programs raise his stakes and worth for the national marketers,’’ he said. ‘‘Preston is considered one of the game’s young phenoms.’’

Like many athletes, Wilson’s efforts on the baseball diamond and practice field allow him little time to handle his own events. By hiring a sports marketing agency, Wilson is able to have ideas and deals brought to him, Becher said.

‘‘His goal is to be as good a baseball player as he can, and in order to have a significant impact in the community, he needed help, he said. ‘‘It takes time to do this well.’’

The decision to produce and air the charity’s PSAs stemmed from the work the station did with Sports & Sponsorships and Wilson’s own participation in Sports Jam, said Glen Eklund, director of broadcast operations with WPLG. While the channel doesn’t carry Marlin games, Wilson’s name in the community will help the PSAs find an audience, he said. The station also produced a news segment on the making of the PSA, Eklund said.

The initiative comes as difficult crossroads in Wilson’s life and career. Several months ago, Wilson went into a hitting slump and was ultimately placed on the disabled list with an injured thumb. In July, Wilson and wife, Trista lost their first-born son, who was born three months premature. Wilson only recently emerged from the Marlins’ AAA Team.

For Wilson, the program is a chance to support local children’s charities and find focus on the ballfield, he said.

‘‘Athletes have an obligation to give something back,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘I realize how unique it is for kids to experience big league baseball up close.’’

Jeffery D. Zbar is a freelance writer. He can be reached at jeff@goinsoho.com.