Major League Baseball changed its mind very quickly when, after announcing plans to put ads for the upcoming summer movie, Spider-Man 2, on every base in major league parks during a weekend in June, howls of rage from baseball purists helped decide that this was a bad public relations move. The same fans also got their knickers in a twist when ads showed up on the uniforms of players during a season-opening series in Japan between the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the New York Yankees. The victory for these fans, however, may only be short-lived.
Go to any major league ballpark today and you can’t avoid seeing ads everywhere for newspapers, major retailers, cell phone services, and soft drink companies. A blank wall space is nothing more than a potential spot to make a few extra dollars for a club that goes towards the cost of running a major league team, of which a good percentage counts towards player salaries. I can even stand at a stall in the bathroom and read an advertisement for exotic automobiles available at a local dealer. Don’t forget, too, that almost every ballpark now bears a brand name: Tropicana Field, Comerica Park, and Network Associates Coliseum, to name a few.
So where does the line in the sand get drawn between the genuine nature of the game and the chance to squeeze as much revenue out of the fans of baseball? Is it wrong for the playing field to have an ad for Home Depot carved into the outfield grass by the grounds crew? Should baseball players double as walking billboards for Coca-Cola? Have we entangled ourselves in this web of advertising that we have accepted the inevitable, on which Major League Baseball is counting??
In other sports, advertisements have become commonplace in areas that baseball fears to tread. At professional hockey games, you find large ads painted under the ice and possibly even a product name glued to the side of player’s helmets. Uniforms sported by European soccer teams have ads for adidas, Sony, petrol companies, and many other businesses. NASCAR is the best example of product placement gone mad; ads are plastered on every square inch of the cars, painted on the infield grass, and sewn to the jumper suits worn by the drivers. Regardless, the popularity of NASCAR grows every year. Would baseball be able to adopt some of these practices in a manner that does not detract from the game?
Those who favor the tradition and integrity of the game of baseball will eventually lose this battle because Major League Baseball, through no fault of its own, puts the bottom line above all else. At the end of the day, no matter which team ends up on top and who finishes last, the question will be: how much profit did we generate this season? What we, as fans of the game, can hope for is that the game itself does not change. A grand slam by Manny Ramirez scores the same number of runs whether or not an ad for Claritin prominently adorns his pant leg. A diving catch by Johnny Damon in the outfield is recorded as an out whether or not he slides across the Golden Arches painted on the grass.
Still, I want the field and the uniforms to remain untouched. I love the beauty of the green grass in the outfield, the red dirt in the infield, and the white glow from the bases and the foul lines under the sodium lights. I also love the white home uniforms of the Red Sox, with BOSTON boldly printed on the front and the players’ numbers printed square on the back. It would be a shame to have to deface the iconic images of America’s pastime in the name of revenue.