Vintage 'base ball' pitches its values

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Niche sports can offer more than just tightly targeted demographics and integration-they often promise to associate brands with certain values.

The Vintage Base Ball Federation, co-founded by former big leaguer and baseball gadfly Jim Bouton, presents itself as an alternative to the sometimes scandalous nature of modern sports by turning back the clock all the way to the 19th century.

Founded last August, VBBF is a sanctioning body that hopes to recruit teams to participate in playoffs and a World Series to be held this summer. Old-style base ball (it was originally two words) is played in vintage garb using period rules, and, as Mr. Bouton says, "All the participants are players. It's not just the athletes on the field; it's the fans who come. They're part of the spectacle."

The federation's founders staged a vintage game that was telecast on ESPN Classic in 2004, and Mr. Bouton says the game provides an alternative for fans who are sick of big-league hype.

"It brings back old-fashioned sports- manship, when there was respect for the other team," says the author of "Ball Four." "There's only one umpire, and he must always be addressed as 'Sir.' This is appealing to a lot of players today who are playing softball and hardball. They're tired of trash talking and helmet throwing."

Similarly, Jeff Kent, VP-sponsor services and activation for Professional Bull Riders, describes PBR as "a true extreme sport filled with very loyal, classy athletes," a best-of-both-worlds pitch that attracts heartland brands such as Ford and Wrangler and youth-seeking sponsors such as Amp'd Mobile.

Mr. Bouton also contends his game will bring sponsors aboard: "One of our best advertisements is the daily sports page. ... It's a great chance for marketers to be associated with old-fashioned values. It's conservative without the politics."
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