Buying Out Baseball
How much is tradition worth? How big does the check need to be before beloved sports practices gain corporate sponsors? Or is there no such figure? I read an article recently about the “inevitability” of advertising on jerseys in American sports in following the European soccer tradition. The article, which can be found here, predicts that Major League Baseball will cite tradition and resist the longest. I agree that sponsorship is a great way for teams to make money, but I think baseball can defeat the odds and keep billboards off the fabric. Just take a look above the front door.
Ballparks’ names often change hands. Deals expire or the company in question (Enron) simply declares bankruptcy. We accept that naming rights to a park will be bought and purists will groan before starting to adjust to “Product X Field.” I chose to take a look at the current names of all 30 major league ballparks and see what they are called. That graph is to the right.
Twenty-three percent (7/30) of the parks bear the name of their tenant. Ten percent (3/30) are named after a current or former owner. Six percent (2/30) are named after the neighborhood in which the park resides. That means 12 of 30 MLB clubs (40%) bear no corporate sponsorship. Note: I am counting Wrigley field as being named after owner William Wrigley Jr. and not the chewing gum company.
More often than not, the corporate sponsor actually makes sense especially in the case of those parks named after beers. I’m pretty sure Budweiser just comes straight out of the faucets in St. Louis. The namesakes are often based in the host city or have a major part of their business located there. So if we have 60% of the league named after a corporate sponsor why would I still think tradition will win out?
One CBS News report found Americans are exposed to upwards of 5,000 advertising images a day. Everything from the cars we drive to what we have for breakfast is riddled with ads, promotions, and reasons to buy something new. But between the foul lines there are no logos except that of Major League Baseball. In 2002 Bud Selig tried to put ads for Spider-Man 2 on the bases and fans LOST. THEIR. MINDS. They denounced a one-by-four inch ad as if Selig proposed we dig up Babe Ruth’s corpse and hang it naked from the flag pole. Corporations keep getting bigger, louder, and more demanding. Americans turn to sports because they can momentarily step away from the relentless marketing blitz.
My thinking is, if we are trudging toward company names on jerseys shouldn’t the percentage of corporate named ballparks be much higher? Americans will not stomach a sudden jump from Mr. Met to the Michelin Man. The change, if it were to arrive, would be gradual, likely via stadium naming rights. If Yankee Stadium will always be Yankee Stadium then maybe some things are in fact sacred. There will always be ads on the outfield walls and the field may be named after a bank but home white jerseys will always be pure.
Sidenote: If you’re from Cleveland; it’ll always be The Jake.
Sound off on Twitter: The author can be reached @Corey_Barnes