Better Marketing Through Ba$eball
Everybody knows that the true Great American Pastime is ... marketing. It just so happens that corporate America has found baseball to be a useful vehicle for selling its products.
And no American sports franchise has been as happy to oblige as the New York Yankees, owned by George Steinbrenner. What makes the Yankees' franchise so valuable are the lucrative broadcast and radio deals it is able to strike due to the size of the market. And it's common knowledge that the Yankees' payroll is considerably larger than the next highest payroll in baseball, and in fact dwarfs those of many teams in smaller markets. The result, unsurprisingly, is the overwhelming commercialization of the game.
Fox, for example, shows only limited games during the regular season, but carries every game in the postseason, when viewership is higher and the time between innings is longer -- allowing, naturally, for more commercials. Fox commentators Joe Buck and Tim McCarver repeatedly invite viewers to dial in responses to inane questions via Sprint PCS phones, but most of the ads are on the field, visible throughout the game. The most consistently viewed part of the field, right behind home plate, is fitted with a rectangular bluescreen that allows virtual ads to be changed at intervals throughout the games. This legerdemain can be disconcerting; a casual viewer may wonder what else isn't really there.
Sadly for advertisers, regulation baseball uniforms do not yet allow corporate logos, so for the time being, players cannot follow the model of Tiger Woods, who sells each side of his cap to the highest bidder, making his head into a revolving billboard. He even wears that Nike logo in print ads for other products.
But it's radio where the trend toward selling baseball to the highest bidder has been honed to an artform. WCBS Radio is the exclusive radio home of the Yankees. Lacking a visual element, the network is forced to come up with creative solutions, which basically means putting every pitch, out, play and player up for sale.
In between calling the game and enumerating stats, veteran WCBS announcers John Sterling and Charlie Steiner have to remember to force-feed their listeners dozens of advertisements that are cued by specific moments in the game: "In exchange for that Player of the Game interview, Jorge Posada will receive a gift certificate to Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse!" (The discerning fan might wonder: Does a $15 million a year athlete really need a $50 meal on the house?)
After a terse analysis of the upcoming match-up, we hear: "The keys to the game are brought to you by Hyundai."
Sponsors haven't let a single pun or tie-in go unexploited: "That fastball clocked in at 95 miles per hour. And that speed can only be brought to you by Road Runner High Speed Online -- reach your destination faster."
Or better yet: "And that was the first single of the game, brought to you by Cingular Wireless."
Those connections seem fairly natural, but others are tenuous to say the least: "That was the 15th out of the game. And a 15-minute phone call can save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance. Call Geico!"
Some are even in questionable taste: "Up next is Hideki Matsui, an American favorite with Japanese flair -- just like Benihana restaurants. An experience at every table."
A few advertisers don't seem to make much of an effort: "This part of the game is brought to you by Jeep; just like the Yankees, the competition can't touch us."
Others are downright uninspired: "The undisputed center of the baseball world: Yankee Stadium. The undisputed center of the business world: The New York Stock Exchange." By the time the ninth inning rolls around, this constant shilling can wear down even the most avid fan.
The Yankees' tremendous success over the last decade, with many American League Playoff and World Series wins, is a consequence of being able to pay top dollar for a roster of all-star ringers. Teams in smaller markets have argued that this is unfair, and there have been some adjustments in payroll rules, but money continues to sway the game.
Despite all this, the Florida Marlins, with a payroll three times smaller than the Yankees', managed to defeat them in this year's World Series, relying on scruffy determination and a will to win. So let the powers that be take note: it isn't always money that makes the world go 'round.
Jeffrey Stock is a composer and a life-long Yankees fan living in New York City.