They may not be willing to listen, or believe, but when Covid is over (if it’s ever over) major league baseball faces one of the biggest marketing challenges in the history of not just sports…but retail!
What to write for a weekday column when there is no sports – just the promise of sports and the labor pains of testing, bubbles, and how to stay healthy long enough to play.
Someone – anyone – raise your hand if you’re tired – worn out. No disrespect to anyone in management, or government, who’s just trying to do their best to keep people safe and alive; or media, whose job it is to keep you entertained, informed, or what some call educated.
There’s a famous quote from Civil War general William T. Sherman that reflects the attitudes of a growing number of cooped-up, fed-up Americans. Sherman did not like reporters because he said they wrote things that weren’t true, just sensational accounts of the war. He despised them. Called them spies. And during his famous march to the sea in 1864 he had finally reached his boiling point. He said, “If they all died overnight…there’d be headlines from hell by morning.”
So what to write, about sports or viruses, with a modicum of truth…when almost no one trusts the sources?
What’s left to say when the truth reflects what George Costanza (Seinfeld) once claimed? “It’s not a lie…if YOU believe it.”
I spent some text time last week with a retired MLB umpire. We talked baseball, and not umpiring. The topic? What comes next after July 23…after the NASCAR sprint through a 60-game schedule to a World Series…and what’s bound to be an even more contentious negotiation to play again when the collective bargaining agreement expires come December, 2021. More fireworks are expected – more hard feelings between major league baseball and the people it’s hoping to bring back to the ballparks, some who claim they’ll never come back?
We agreed…that the game is largely the same as it’s ever been (notwithstanding the DH and experiments to speed things up), but the game is in hands of the people who control it. And the goal? It’s not baseball for the purists anymore, but rather, how to entertain the ‘masses’ with a backdrop of baseball.
Baseball management is obviously concerned, or they wouldn’t be so obsessed with making the game fit TV programming like an episode of Yellowstone. They’re wracking their brains to make the show entertaining while ignoring the fact that people – young players and fans – might like the game in its original package. It’s the ‘experience’ of a baseball game they’re selling now; and how much are you willing to spend on itI
If that’s true baseball is faced with a serious marketing challenge, that and a lot of p—-d off former fans who couldn’t come to the games now if they wanted to – Covid 19. Today’s culture is centered on value. And if MLB is going to win those people back, here’s a list of things it, and the players’ association, has to do to survive.
One…the game is too expensive, and the concept of dynamic pricing – charging more to see the Yankees play than the Orioles – is awful, especially when packaged as the game is done presently…and believing that a seat in the right field stands, 500 feet away from home plate, is worth $35 – just because it’s in the sun. People who manage their money aren’t that stupid, or stupid to pay $12 for a Frisch’s Big Boy that costs $4 outside the park!
Two…the experience is not inducive to becoming a fan of the game – too much superfluous crap! Having a swimming pool at the park, or video arcades don’t make you like baseball. Harassing ushers are a turnoff. Security guards staring you in the eye between innings is bogus. And when I was learning to love baseball you could get into the park two hours before the game to watch both teams take batting practice. Not anymore.
Three…the players union is going to have to make some concession. My dad wouldn’t think of going to see the Reds on a weekend unless they were playing a Sunday doubleheader. Well the union negotiated that away years ago, and now if they play two games on the same day you have to pay twice. It was always a thrill for Little Leaguers to watch major league players take infield…show off their skills and their arms…turn the double play. But they don’t do that anymore, either – an educational opportunity lost.
Four…drop the platforms, and the politically-charged messages that overshadow the focus on baseball. Equality and justice are important, of course. But to be constantly reminded that political change within the country is part of the baseball experience is simply tiresome – and misdirected. People want to get away from politics for three hours, not be trapped by it.
Five…reboot baseball from the top on down. Rob Manfred knows Madison Avenue, but he doesn’t care about baseball – or understand that people who played and know baseball are laughing at its current presentation.
The rule changes are a turnoff, a reflection of leadership. People actually go to the ballparks for leisure – they’re not in a hurry to get home. And frankly, extra inning games are a ‘turn-on’ for people who understand the importance of the bullpen – every at bat is a sudden death matchup. Baseball fans aren’t that naive, but apparently Rob Manfred is.
They say that the game has to adapt to the modern culture? I say…modern culture would love to find something wholesome, and constant, that it can learn to love – something besides a barbaric, Netflix series and a reminder of the human experience at its worst.
Baseball has always been a means of appreciating each other, and the different skills and personalities that bring people together. People would still support that, if baseball was offered in its purest form, and without so many negatives.
But with the present attitude, and the constant reminder that Blake Snell can’t play for a pro-rated salary while fans scrounge to support him…hey, it can’t happen.
Rob, I know you probably won’t see this, but you’d better get the message. Baseball has to become baseball again – personality, ambiance, and some concession to its traditions. If you don’t, a lot of us aren’t coming back.
And it’s not a lie…if YOU don’t believe it!