Thursday, May 6, 2004
MLB's message sickening
By Rob Neyer
I love baseball. Really, I love baseball. And there are times when I feel like a man who's married to a woman who hates him. I felt like that this morning, when I read MLB.com's press release -- oops, I mean "news story" -- about MLB's upcoming "Spiderman Weekend."
Frankly, it's insulting. I'll be honest with you, I don't have a particularly high regard for the intelligence of the average American citizen. Maybe that makes me an elitist, or maybe it just makes me a realist; you be the judge. But the mouthpieces at Major League Baseball must have a significantly lower opinion of Americans than I do, if they think more than a very few of us will buy the explanation for Spiderman Weekend.
I do believe that my readers generally are a bit brighter than the average American citizen, but for anybody out there who's a bit too credulous, I'm offering a couple of quotes from various MLB employees, along with my translations into a foreign (to MLB) language called Truth.
Jacqueline Parkes, MLB senior vice president of advertising and marketing: Over the past year and a half, we've been doing substantive research to determine the best ways to market the game into the 21st century ... One thing that came out of the research is that we have a huge opportunity with kids, to bring them into the game. We needed to engage them in relevant and meaningful ways ... The reason we embarked on this relationship with Sony (Columbia's parent company) and Spider-Man 2 is the fact that the brand equity of Spider-Man and Major League Baseball marry up perfectly. They both have huge generational appeal, Americana, so we've got good values.
Translation: Kids don't care about baseball like they used to. We haven't figured out how to make kids like baseball without running baseball clinics, opening baseball academies in urban areas, and subsidizing youth baseball programs, all of which would cost us millions of dollars. Sure, that would be a great investment in the future, but you have to remember that most of the current owners will not be owners 10 years from now. Most of the current owners couldn't care less about the next generation of fans, because by the time the next generation can afford to buy its own tickets, most of the current owners will have worn out their tax breaks and will have moved to their next expensive toy.
But despite our best non-efforts, some kids do still like baseball. They're not going to watch a baseball game, or enjoy a baseball game more, just because they see a Spider-Man logo on the field. What they might do, though, is ratchet up the kids' excitement about the new movie. That's worth a few bucks to the movie studio, of course. And if the media doesn't absolutely destroy us on this one, just wait and see what happens next ...
MLB President Bob DuPuy: It's part of our effort to market the game in a holistic style, but mostly to market it to a whole demographic: kids. I don't think this portends a significant trend to where promotional opportunities or advertising might be going with baseball. We went through a period, after a century of outfield signage, where we went 20 or 30 years with no outfield signage, and then gradually the outfield signage has come back. It adds a unique flavor and color to each of our individual stadia, which are each unique in their own way.
Translation: I'm sorry, I just can't translate this. The argument that signs on the outfield walls somehow make baseball stadiums better is so over-the-top offensive, not to mention dishonest, that I really don't understand how anybody would believe, ever, anything else that DuPuy says (and of course this comes after years of DuPuy assuring us that the Expos were just on the verge of moving somewhere).
It's all about the Benjamins. The signs on the outfield walls, the ugly alternate jerseys, the interminable breaks between half-innings, the six-month season necessitated by no scheduled doubleheaders ... and yes, the movie logos on second base ... they're all about grabbing every dollar that can possibly be grabbed. Major League Baseball is sort of the Ado Annie of professional sports; when somebody with a few million bucks comes calling, MLB just can't say no.
This is nothing new. What offends me, though, is when Major League Baseball sends a sickening message to all of us -- anything and everything is for sale -- and tries to cover its collective butt by arguing they're actually doing it for the kids.
Look, you can do what you want. But from June 11 through 13 -- Spiderman Weekend -- I'm taking a break from Major League Baseball, and I'll spend part of that time teaching my son that chasing every last dollar isn't always the point of existence.
Willie Mays was born on this day, 74 years ago. Which gives me a good reason to remind you about two classic books that have just been published in new editions: Charles Einstein's "Willie's Time" (Southern Illinois University Press) and Arnold Hano's "A Day in the Bleachers" (DaCapo Press). And in case you're interested, I recently updated my Essential Baseball Library.
||It's all about the Benjamins. The signs on the outfield walls, the ugly alternate jerseys, the interminable breaks between half-innings, the six-month season necessitated by no scheduled doubleheaders ... and yes, the movie logos on second base ... they're all about grabbing every dollar that can possibly be grabbed. ... When somebody with a few million bucks comes calling, MLB just can't say no.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.