Saturday, May 08, 2004

Spider-Man Web of Ads Unravels

New York Times

Reading this article, it becomes clear that Sony and the MLB marketing people had no idea placing ads on the bases and pitching rubber would be offensive. The interviews with officials in the article basically boils down to "We thought this would be great, then we looked at some polls, and found out that everyone hated it." How out of touch with baseball can you possibly be? For these guys, there's no magic between the white lines. But for most baseball fans, that ground is sacred. Put things on the walls, name the stadium what you like, even putting small ads on jerseys is ok I guess (some teams have dabbled in this) . . . but don't mess with the field.

As this article notes, once you open the door to intrusive advertising, it's very tough to cut back. That's why Nextel can buy the right to name the Winston Cup winners' first-born child - "[Nextel spokeswoman] Schaefer said Nextel doesn't worry whether the company offends fans with its massive approach to advertising because of stock-car racing's tradition of sponsorship bombardment."

Let's hope baseball continues to take bit more tasteful approach. Advertising is necessary, but "a tradition of sponsorship bombardment" cheapens the sport.

That being said, I don't agree with Ralph Nader that "Fans are gouged, mistreated . . . ." I'm in sure in Nader's world consumers would get whatever they want, regardless of compliance costs, with a prize freeze to boot. Then, as President, he would appoint Justices who actually agree with Justice Douglas' concurrence in Lehman v City of Shaker Heights, 418 US 298 (1974) - "In my view the right of the commuters to be free from forced intrusions on their privacy precludes the city from transforming its vehicles of public transportation into forums for the dissemination of ideas upon this captive audience . . . ."*

This isn't about mistreatment. It's about keeping the "feel" of the sport, and thus keeping fans. The fans don't deserve any sort of treatment, they just deserve the right not to buy tickets if they think the sport is defiled. The MLB should be allowed to place ads in their games - if they couldn't, then you'd really see "gouging" on the ticket prices. But I think that if they do it tastefully, they'll keep fans while still exposing them to the ads. Hopefully the MLB and Sony's reaction to this situation signals some recognition of this. We'll see.


*If you're wondering, the Right to be Free from Advertising Clause is in Article XIII, next to the Right Not to Face 10 to 1 Punitive Damages Clause.

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