I don’t regret the fact that baseball has become commercial. For any business to survive, it has to figure out how to grow revenue and appeal to new customers. MLB has done that by building fan friendly stadiums that allow fans to see what’s going on and by letting fans decide what they want to get out of their day at the park.
However, there’s something to be said for the throwbacks, the guys who hold to a specific baseball morality that won’t allow them to compromise. My friend, Jeff, is one of those guys, someone who would like to see the Houston Astros play in wool uniforms during the middle of July and still laments the passing of the dead-ball era. Jim Riggleman is another one of those guys.
See, Jim is probably a mediocre MLB manager at best but he has managed to keep the Nats in the race much longer than any of his predecessors. On top of that, he’s doing it without Strasburg and the other high priced talent the Nationals have picked up recently. But apparently that wasn’t enough to assure his future with the team and when his ultimatum went unanswered, he did what any throwback would do. He mixed his metaphors while sticking to his guns and getting the hell out of Dodge.
Even that wasn’t enough for Riggleman. No, not only did he refuse to get on the team bus last week, he instead went out, got himself a drink and hit on some young ladies.
Well played, sir. I think even Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle could be proud of that. I can assure you that Jeff is.
As Mr. Lung’s elder by some 12 days, it often falls to me to provide discipline when he goes off on his wild rants. However, I ask you the reader to please remember that I do this out of love; not because I want to but because I have to. And as my parents always used to say, this is hurting me more than it’s hurting you.
Where to begin? How about with the fact that Target’s interest in the game of baseball just shows how healthy the sport is today. After strike shortened seasons and steroid tainted stars, the game has reached ever greater levels of popularity. The willingness of big corporations like Target to put their name on a stadium just shows how far baseball has come. The legions of JDs, MBAs and PR men who have to put their stamp of approval on an undertaking like this means that these same corporations now have a stake in what happens to the game. They don’t want to see it fail any more than we do.
Going beyond that, corporate advertising has always been a part of the game. Wrigley Field got its name as much from the company as it did from the team owner who funded its construction. And I bet that if you could go back in time, you’d find that even the Roman coliseum was sponsored by some local entity. Maximus’ Chariots or something like that. As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, baseball, like all sports, is a business and in business you have to make money. If you don’t, you go the way of Lehman Brothers.
Now I’ll admit that baseball owners (along with owners of other sport franchises) get a pretty sweet deal. The team and the owners usually only have to front a small part of the tab and the city, state and county tend to get stuck with the rest. But once you figure in tax revenues, increased tourism and the implicit commitment from the team that they’re going to stick around, I don’t think you’ll find many people complaining. I’ll say it again. Baseball is a business and advertising is part of business. Corporations like Target, Comerica Bank and U.S. Cellular are just doing what they do best: looking at the demographics and then advertising to them in the best way possible.
However, I have to say at the end of the day, I love Target. I was there just this past weekend to pick up odds and ends for so much cheaper than it would cost to buy them at my local CVS. Maybe Target exploits its workers but compared to Wal-Mart and the fast food joints, they aren’t doing so bad. The only real problem is that it’s really hard to get the smell of children’s sweat out of the stuff I buy there. That’s the price of capitalism.
Among the most anticipated All-Star break events is the
coveted Home Run Derby (presented by State Farm?). This competition is one of ESPN’s most highly
rated programs of the year, yet they seem to find a way to drag it out and make
it harder and harder to watch. It now lasts
2 hours, which is extremely irritating.
Have the people at ESPN and MLB lost touch with their public and if so,
what should be done to make it more enjoyable?
I love the home run derby. Just like I love the slam dunk contest. And it’s quite obvious that we are not alone in these sentiments. Nothing really highlights a big game like a monster shot to left field or an authoritative dunk. And even when both are taken out of context, they’re still spectacular to see. However, the powers that be are aware of this, too, and as I’ve said many times before, sports today exist for the purpose of entertainment and entertainment is all about making money. In that respect, the slam dunk contest and the home run derby are American capitalism at its finest. And, when you take it into context, it kind of makes sense.
Let’s set the scene. First off, the derby didn’t even come into being until the 1985 All-Star Game. In January of 1985, Ronald Reagan took the oath of office for a second time after destroying Walter Mondale the previous November. It seemed that America had finally regained some of the swagger it lost during the oil shocks of the 70’s and the debacle in Vietnam. And really does anything allow for swagger quite like a home run? The derby was a natural outgrowth of the Reagan 80’s and it’s current form owes much to Reagan and the evolution of capitalism during that decade.
Capitalism demands increasing returns on investment to keep investors sated. And there are no bigger investors in sports today than ESPN and the major broadcast networks who feed our need for 24 hour entertainment. Miss the 11:30 SportsCenter and it’s still waiting for you at 12:30. They live to serve but they also exist to make money. It’s like CNN and politics. As much as they said they wanted the Democratic primary to be decided they also lived for the idea that it might be fought all the way to the convention because then they’d have something to keep people coming back. Well, the derby keeps baseball fans coming back every year and it makes sense that the networks would take advantage of our fascination with these feats of uberhumanity.
If people tune in to watch the event, they’re probably going to stay until the end to see who wins. ESPN knows they have a captive audience. But ESPN makes its money from selling advertising at the highest possible rate and they get the highest possible rate by televising events that draw in key demographics. It’s the perfect storm and they want the storm to last as long as possible. Playing the derby out over rounds and allowing as much advertising as possible means that a fun event becomes interminable for the fans but it means that the network is going to pocket a nice chunk of change from everyone who ponies up tens of thousands of dollars to parade their products across the screen during every little break. We may not like it but this is the two-edged sword that is American capitalism.
So, let me try to answer your question simply. Have ESPN and MLB lost touch with their public? No, not at all. They know exactly how long we’ll stick around and they’re going to make sure that McDonalds, Pepsi, Axe Shower Gel and State Farm get in as many pleas for your business as possible. That’s America and that’s the reality. And even though it sometimes annoys me, I still love it.