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Royals billboards make their pitch and let ’er rip

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, at 5:24 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, March 29, 2013, at 6:49 p.m.

There’s some smoke zipping over drivers heading south on Interstate 35 out of downtown these days, and the Kansas City Royals couldn’t be more pleased with the attention it’s getting.

On the east side of the interstate is a big billboard depicting newly signed Royals pitcher James Shields in full release. Across the freeway a couple of blocks west is another billboard showing catcher Salvador Perez gloving a fastball that’s ripping through the sign.

About 106,000 vehicles a day pass through that stretch over the Crossroads area, and the dynamic between the dueling billboards flanking the freeway is catching a lot of eyeballs.

The sharp interplay comes from the creative minds at Walz Tetrick Advertising in Mission. This is their first year with the Royals account, and the billboards are part of their new “Come to Play” campaign for the team.

“We’ve never received this type of fan reaction from a billboard,” Toby Cook, Royals vice president of community affairs, said Thursday. “It’s been terrific for us, and it sends a signal we’re right around the corner for opening day on April 1.”

Jeff Chase, creative director for the firm, said the billboards came before the idea. The agency’s account team discovered an opportunity to lease the space simultaneously and asked whether Chase’s creative staff had any ideas.

“It was an opportunity for us to figure out something to do that would be remarkable and unique for the city,” he said. “We wanted the billboards and the whole campaign to reflect the essence of the spirit of this Royals team. The roster is filled with guys who play their hearts out.”

In typical advertising team spirit, neither Chase nor senior art director Amanda Coleman could identify exactly who thought of using the billboards in such a playful fashion. But they did know how to maximize the idea’s impact.

First, there are no words. Just images of Shields and Perez.

“A guy in a Royals uniform is iconic in this town,” Chase said. “You don’t need words.”

The trouble was, there were no photos of Shields in a Royals uniform. He came to the team in a December trade with Tampa Bay, so the switch from Rays to Royals was Photoshopped.

Then there was the fastball.

“Here comes this ball across the highway and it destroys the billboard on the way to the catcher,” Chase said.

The corner of the billboard with Perez not only has the fabric removed, but the surface beneath it down to the frame.

“We could have done a trail of flame or smoke or something similar,” Chase said, “but we thought if we could take it to the next level we should actually mess up the vinyl, and then the next thing was take off the vinyl and show the structure behind it.”

It works so well that many drivers believe the wind has damaged the sign. That is, before they catch on to the fastball’s power.

“We’ve gotten dozens and dozens of Tweets and Facebook posts,” Cook said. “I’ve gotten calls saying, ‘That’s a great sign on the billboard, but did you notice it was damaged?’ It’s got people talking about baseball.”

Which is exactly what the Royals wanted.

“We think it’s awesome,” Cook said. And then he made a pitch of his own.

“Could you put in a line that single game tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.?”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at kckansascity.

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