Commentary by Jonah Bloom

Critics of Spider-Man Ads on Base Pads Living in a Fantasy League

The Outcry Exceeds the Crime and Ignores the Realities of Sport Today

By Published on .

To the baseball "purists" and media pundits whose criticism forced Major League Baseball Commission Bud Selig to withdraw a plan to display Spider-Man 2 movie ads
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
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on bases, I can only offer the disenchanted soccer fan's chant: What a load of rubbish.

Some will say that, as a Brit, I just don't care enough about the national pastime. Let's knock that one on the head right away: I love baseball. Some will joke that my allegiance to the New York Mets suggests otherwise, but being devoted to that outfit has taught me to enjoy all aspects of the game -- not just winning.

Ballpark fan
Sure, I don't have the baseball history of some others, but I'd venture I spend more time at the ballpark than most. Just last week I flew to San Diego to take in the Mets' three-game series against the Padres at the wonderful Petco Park. I'll be back at the less glamorous Shea Stadium this week. I rarely miss a game on TV.

My adoration of the sport noted, I'd like to tackle the tone of surprise and outrage these pundits have employed. "It's beyond grotesque," cried Ralph Nader; "an unprecedented campaign that has purists crying foul," said the San Francisco Chronicle; the MLB has done a "stunning about-face," reported The New York Times.

These people must have been living in a Spidey-hole. I realize not everyone gets Advertising Age, so they wouldn't have read our April 5 article, "Will MLB sell space on player uniforms?" noting the few remaining non-commercial spaces in baseball are up for grabs. But, even without reading that, how could they not see this sort of thing is inevitable?

Ad after ad
Maybe they didn't notice the endless round of promotional days run by each of the clubs. Presumably they also overlooked the sponsored stadiums, the thousands of ballpark billboards, the messy myriad of sponsors who "bring" us different parts of the televised coverage, the commentators clanging efforts to weave those sponsors into their sportscasts and the appearance of players and even owners in ad after ad.

You could, I guess, claim that this is all peripheral and that the actual game is still "pure," untainted by commercialism. If you live in a fantasy world. Presumably in that world no player has ever taken steroids or gambled on the outcome of a game, A-Rod isn't earning $25.2 million a year and the Brewers will win the World Series.

There was a similar media hullabaloo in the U.K. in 1979 when Liverpool became the first soccer club to put a sponsor on their shirts. But shirt sponsorship quickly became the norm, the game grew in popularity and fans have bought more and more team shirts --sponsors' name and all -- every year.

Don't understand fuss
Sure, if you ask fans on sports Web sites to vote "yes" or "no" on the issue, they'll vote "no," but trawl the chatrooms and you'll find people discussing the Spidey ads and the commissioner's retreat. The vast majority -- particularly the kids --don't understand what all the fuss was about.

Despite the MLB 11th hour turnaround on the base placements this time, it remains inevitable that in years to come ads on various areas of the playing field will become just another piece of unnoticed, unregulated clutter.

And, perhaps the real genius of this McCann-Erickson devised promotion is that, despite the cancellation of the on-base concept, its client, Sony, gets the huge first-mover advantage of great PR play that will echo across American stadiums throughout the Summer. Yes, Mr. Nader, you were the key to this promotion.

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