GRUMBLERS AT THE BALLYARD

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Baseball and purists are words that often go together. Like greedy and owners. So we read about baseball purists who decry changes in the national pastime. Still traumatized over designated hitters, they now swing away at intrusions of commercialism into the ballyards.

Exploding scoreboards are sponsored. Tarp coverings have logos. And rotating signs are popping up behind the plate or along the infield wall.

The greedy owners say they need the money to make up for lower TV rights fees and higher contract demands from the better players.

We did an unscientific Fax Poll last week in the ad industry and the results showed there are a lot of ad people out there who don't like the commercialization any more than the average purist. But there is an inevitability at work. There are advertisers willing to spend to put their messages-or at least their logos-in front of baseball fans in the park and watching on TV. There are owners out there who want the income.

Several in our poll warned ominously about logos on uniforms and equipment. But unlike the NBA, where shoe endorsers abound, everyday wearing of baseball-cleat shoes has not become a teen fad (praise God!). Nor have baseball jerseys caught on. Baseball caps? That's another story; even football and basketball players are wearing them. And we note that even the tie-in savvy NBA has balked at festooning its players with logos a la race cars and drivers.

But it's likely commercial messages will further invade the parks. It's evidence baseball and its fans matter to marketers. Purists should realize this is actually a throwback to the days when three balls was a walk and advertising lined outfield walls from foul pole to foul pole.

What we'd like to see more of today are value-added deals, where advertisers give something back to the fans or the game. Let the signs be honor rolls of companies that sponsor baseball clinics, give tickets to inner-city youngsters, donate money for home runs, etc.

Help the game; help the fans. Help yourself.

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