July 1994 - Ad Nauseam

Are you, loyal baseball fan, feeling a bit neglected and under appreciated by the big business of baseball? Do you sometimes wonder if the powers-that-be give even a rip that you exist? Well, fear not, Dear Diehard. Baseball cares very much about you.

Well, maybe not you personally. But baseball, as well as Corporate America, adores us fans a group. Well, maybe not actual fans. But they find our disposable incomes extremely attractive. We're not just a collection of individual baseball enthusiasts - but, no! - we are highly desired members of a vast demographic and psychographic target market for purveyors of credit cards, long distance services, beer, cars, gasoline, and more!

Baseball, broadcast media, major corporations, and the advertising industry have teamed up to devise all sorts of innovative ways of sharing their wonderful messages with us - both at home and in the ballpark - and whether we want to see them or not. Not only will the onslaught of ads continue to be impossible to avoid during a baseball game, there will soon be more of them, intruding even deeper into the game.

Once, TV and radio commercials between innings were enough to deliver the ad message. In the good old days, if a commercial came on, we could head for the fridge to miss it. Then, as technology advanced, we could hit the mute button. Marketers counter attacked with the insidious "drop ins," where the announcer deviously slips in a plug for something between balls and strikes. Last year, we were presented with the exceedingly obnoxious home plate rotating sign systems. What will they think of next?

Well, just you wait! Through the miracle of computer technology, we may soon be dealing with "virtual signage," whereby a logo or other promotional message is emblazoned somewhere in the ballpark - behind home plate, the top of the dugout, the outfield wall, even the players uniforms - but the image only exists as a computer file, visible only on TV! The entire friendly confines become a digital canvas, all up for sale.

Part of the reason for this ad blitz is to make up for some serious business blunders. Back in 1990, CBS signed a four year deal with Major League Baseball, and forked over a billion buckaroos in rights fees. The TV boys came up a little short in the deal - some estimate their losses as high as $500 million. As a result, no network was willing to pony up the dough MLB was looking for in a new contract. Major League Baseball then decided to go into the broadcast business, and thus was born The Baseball Network. TBN, a joint venture with ABC and NBC, debuts with the All-Star Game. The idea is that baseball and TV share the risks and the rewards (another revenue sharing scheme) for televising our national pastime. Not surprisingly, TBN's early ad sales revenue failed to meet projections. To help compensate for the shortfall, team owners raised ticket prices an average of 8.9% this year. Once again, the owners play, the fans pay.

Believing that team loyalty is localized (superstations provide a convincing argument otherwise) the national game of the week was dumped in favor of up to 14 regional telecasts. The theory is that more money can be made by selling lots of little pies instead of one big pie. This is the concept behind the new lame divisional and playoff formats. Don't swallow the "to bring more fans into the game" hokum - it's designed to bring more money into the owners pockets.

Baseball is an expensive business to run, and advertising revenue foots a major part of the bill. Nolo problemo. What's disturbing is the level to which ads have infiltrated and interfered with our enjoyment of the game. Baseball should learn to pitch to us without selling out.

©1994 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


Post a Comment

<< Home