Friday, January 28, 2005

This Call to the Bullpen

We're all aware, surely, how commercialism keeps creeping deeper and deeper into baseball. We've all seen the slow roasting spit of rotating ads behind home plate. We're used to the Budweiser play of the game and listening to the color commentator hawking cameras. Last year, the forces of darkness almost succeeded in getting ads put on the bases themselves. Eventually they'll win I'm sure. I mean, why wouldn't you put ads on the bases? Show me the totured logic that would permit ads everywhere else but ban them on a base.

But I save a special kind of hatred for whichever loathsome corporate sponsor is bringing me This Call to the Bullpen. Oh how I despise them. Actually, Major League Baseball deserves much of the blame as well. I hate them both.

Humor me and consider for a minute what it means to say that a sponsor is bringing me this call to the bullpen.

Clearly the sponsor has nothing to do with the decision to switch pitchers. Could the broadcasters say something like "That double play was brought to you by Michelin Tires"? No, of course not. (knock on wood) It makes no sense.

The only thing a sponsor can bring is money. Money to support something in the telecast. Money to support something in the stadium. Sponsors can bring me free bat day, sponsors can pay the janitor's salary, they can buy a fancy new tarp for the rain delay, but dammit, they can't order a pitching change.

"This call to the bullpen is brought to you by Nextel." What is Nextel bringing? What have they paid for? In the telecast, a call to the bullpen means a commercial. Is Nextel really sponsoring the break? Are they paying for Geico and Ditech and Meineke to air 30-second spots? Of course they aren't.

They bring nothing! It's all a damned lie!

And furthermore, it's a profoundly bad marketing decision (where are their SMART goals?). Commercials in ballgames are generally not resented because they occur at natural stopping points. Inning over, take a break. The pitching change is the one occasion during a ballgame when a commercial pops up at an actual moment of tension and excitement. Someone is on base. Someone good is coming to bat. The game is at stake. It's probably the one moment during any given game where a fan really doesn't want to go to commercial. Is this sense of annoyance and frustration really what you want your product associated with?

“Nextel is proud to bring you this commercial break at the exact moment in the game when you least want it. Nextel. Enjoy these commercials.”

That would be a little more honest, wouldn't it. How about if they went for total honesty, abandoning the flimsy pretense that they were actually sponsoring anything:

"This moment in the broadcast is brought to you by Nextel. Nextel is proud to be the proud sponsor of this, the utterance of its own name. Nextel. And now, back to the action.”

At least with that approach, a) I don't associate Nextel with an unwanted interruption, b) Major League Baseball and Nextel don't have to lie and say that something specific is being sponsored, and c) I get credited with a minimum amount of intelligence.

I don't know why I'm picking on Nextel in particular. I don't even know what Nextel is or what they provide. And yet, somehow, they seem like the kind of people that would bring me this call to the bullpen. Is it just me?

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