Buy me some peanuts and...Cabernet?
How about a glass of Schilling Schardonnay or CaberReyes with that dog? Some of baseball's biggest stars now adorn California wine labels in the name of charity.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Is Jose Reyes of the New York Mets smoother than David Ortiz of the world champion Red Sox? Who has more complexity and depth - the New York Yankees' Jorge Posada or the Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones?
As the 2008 baseball season kicks off, those questions will be settled not only on the field, but also in a glass. Wine importer Charity Wines of Winchendon, Mass., has partnered with Boston-based Charity Hop to produce California wines dedicated to major league stars, with much of the profits going to charity.
Charity Wines vice president John Corcoran hopes to raise $2 million this year through sales of wines with catchy names like CaberReyes and Vintage Papi, named after Red Sox slugger Ortiz. Last year, the venture sold upwards of a quarter-million bottles, raising $320,000.
This year, more than a dozen players will have eponymous wines with their likeness on the label. Each bottle costs around $12 to $14, with $1.25 of the price going to the charity of the player's choice. Charity Wines makes a paltry 55 cents in profit on each sale.
Athletes have long been attaching their names to consumer products in the name of charity. For good reason: A 2007 survey of more than 1,000 adults by Cone, a Boston branding firm, found that 87 percent are likely to switch from one brand to another - price and quality being about equal - if the other brand is associated with a good cause. In 1993, 66 percent of adults said they would buy for charitable reasons.
But do-gooding of this kind has risks for athletes. What if the wine is rancid, or a sports star gets arrested for drunk driving? "If the product is not good, it will damage the brand of the celebrity," says Marc Pollick, founder of the Giving Back Fund of Los Angeles, which creates philanthropic foundations for athletes and entertainers.
Corcoran, 34, who has been in the wine business for 10 years, dreamed up the idea behind Charity Wines a few years ago but decided it was too whimsical to work. "I laughed it off," he recalls.
He wasn't laughing in early 2007. His importing business, VinLozano Imports, was struggling as large winemakers like Diageo and Constellation won the battle for liquor store shelf space. So Corcoran decided to give charitable wines a try. One snowy day in their Boston office, he and partner Andrew Graff Googled the words "baseball," "charity," and "wine" and came across the Web site for Charity Hop, a sports charity consulting outfit.
Charity Hop co-founder and advertising executive Brett Rudy, in turn, used his connections to get Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox on board. When teammate Manny Ramirez caught wind of it, he insisted on signing up as well. (Ramirez's wine is called Manny Being Merlot, a play on "Manny Being Manny," a catchphrase popular among Red Sox faithful.) The venture launched last year with the three players featured on wines from a Chilean vineyard. Corcoran is now using several U.S. wineries.
Next Corcoran and Rudy, 35, hope to develop wine labels for NBA, NHL, and NFL stars - assuming, that is, they can overcome each league's licensing and collective bargaining regulations. (For instance, they cannot work with active NHL players, just retired stars like Boston Bruins legend Ray Borque, who has a wine out this year.)
Rudy says retired stars, who are not bound by union licensing rules, are the big opportunity. Last year, Charity Wines released a merlot from Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, an oenophile. (Marino's "13" wine is "well balanced, blended with strong eucalyptus and other herbal hints," according to its label.) Could Bordeaux Brett (Favre) be on the drawing board?
Major league baseball Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Murray, and Brooks Robinson are also participating in 2008. Bottles will be available at retailers in as many as 18 states by mid-May, and are also for sale at www.charitywines.com.
The sudden success of the Charity Wines/Charity Hop partnership will no doubt spawn imitators - Pollick, of the Giving Back Fund, is working with one called Giving Back Wines in North Carolina. For now, Corcoran and Rudy have got the field largely to themselves.
Meanwhile, sales at Corcoran's VinLozano Imports are soaring. He says revenues this year should surpass $10 million, with much of that coming from the charity business. Not bad for someone whose business was sputtering not that long ago - and who's now living every sports fan's dream: "If you told me a year ago I would be hanging with Dan Marino," he says,"I would have said you were crazy."