Baseball's Back: Can It Reverse The Curse?

baseball field imageWith the first pitch less than a week away, Major League Baseball is running a new marketing campaign, underscoring the historical connection the sport has with Americans. But with its image still bloody from the steroid scandal, the baseball brand is wobbly. In the latest Sports Fan Loyalty Index from Brand Keys, MLB finds itself in third place -- after the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. (Yes, baseball is still ahead of the National Hockey League.)

MLB kicked off its "This is beyond baseball" effort last week with a 30-minute documentary-style program, which includes vignettes that "communicate the magnitude of what baseball represents and that the scope of its impact goes well beyond the game on the field," MLB says in its release. Narrated by Vin Scully, it includes commentary from such baseball greats as Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., Curtis Granderson, Derek Lee and Terry Francona, as well a profile of the Upton family -- father Manny and sons B.J. and Justin.



But will it be enough to woo back fans, who are still struggling to come to terms with the idea that some of the game's greatest players are chemically enhanced cheaters? It's hard to say, says Robert K. Passikoff, president of Brand Keys -- who points out that part of baseball's problem is that inherently, it just isn't as exciting as football and basketball. "In baseball, the perfect game is where nothing happens," he says, so it loses to other sports in terms of pure entertainment value.

And while it ties with football in terms of history--another key driver to fan loyalty and the aspect of the game stressed by the new MLB effort -- it's most vulnerable in the area of fan bonding. "That's where baseball is getting killed," he says. "You're not supposed to be playing on steroids, and people don't like knowing that have put their faith in people who have feet of clay."

The recession won't help much, either. MLB is said to be bracing itself for the first decline in ticket sales since 2002, reports Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, with the league likely to draw about 75 million fans in the coming season, "6% below the sport's high-water mark of 79.5 million in 2007."

Some teams, to be sure, are seeing strong sales, including Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee. But the report says markets like Oakland, St. Louis, and San Diego are seeing declines. And in Detroit, it says -- thanks to the cratering of the auto industry -- the Tigers "have lost about half of their 2008 full-season-equivalent base."

Still, there are plenty of signs of spark, especially in attendance at Spring Training games: The Boston Red Sox reported that its game against the Detroit Tigers last week drew its largest crowd ever.

3 comments about "Baseball's Back: Can It Reverse The Curse?".
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  1. Eric Place from Sacred Heart University, March 31, 2009 at 2:52 p.m.

    Patrick's right. I also want to add that the NFL and NBA, because college football and basketball are huge, generate hype just on Draft Day alone. I went to the '08 NBA Draft; tickets only cost $20, and it was a great time. Nobody cares about the MLB Draft because drafted players don't play in the major leagues right away; even the NHL Draft is more marketable than the MLB Draft. In terms of the season being too long, yeah- the NBA is hitting playoff time as it begins, and the NFL is in full swing as it ends; unless they cut the season back in both directions so that all it has to compete with is MLS, WNBA, and AFL, very few people will be paying attention to both the beginning and end of the season. Personally, the only baseball I've watched in the last year has been the All-Star game, World Series, and a little bit of the WBC recently [because the NCAA tourney hadn't started yet]. A problem also inherent in baseball is that people don't want to wear baseball jerseys like they do football or basketball jerseys; they're just less stylish; hence, less sales. If I were the MLB, rather than market 'history', which is old news [and even the NBA has a rich history to rival it at this point, in my opinion- Russell, Chamberlain, Dr. J, Jordan, Bird, Magic, Isaiah, Shaq & Kobe, all the way up to LeBron, D-Wade and the new wave of stars], I would start heavily marketing individual players. To most casual sports fans, the way to become knowledgeable about a sports league and its teams is to first learn household names. As a league, you can work through/with the media to create household names, hopefully gradually turning some really casual fans into somewhat regular fans. Personally, I don't watch hockey unless the game is Olympic hockey, outdoor hockey, or playoff hockey. However, if I hear that Ovechkin is playing against Crosby & Malkin, I'll be much more likely to tune in. If I hear that the Brewers are playing the Marlins, but I don't hear that Prince Fielder & Ryan Braun face off against Hanley Ramirez & Dan Uggla, I'm not going to watch the game. The MLB must market it stars a lot better if it wants to keep fans, get new fans, and make money.

  2. Charles Pendleton from Garage Team Mazda, March 31, 2009 at 8:25 p.m.

    Well you paid $300 for that game because it was the Yankees and that is way over priced. I can go to a game out here in California for $30 for myself and that includes a seat, parking and a hot dog. It would cost me $52 for 2 people. You can't even buy a single ticket for the NFL with that price and same with the NBA. Well you might be able to go to a Clippers game for that price. Eric brought up a great point. They need to market individual players more and the only real rivalry they market are the Red Sox and Yankees and I am kind of tired of that rivalry.

  3. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, April 2, 2009 at 3:48 p.m.

    I personally don't see that the individual players need more marketing. Baseball is a team sport. A big part of the problem today is that marketing is being made to seem more important than winning. They want more games to get to what is still only ONE winner.

    The sports team no longer want the true sports fan to come to the games. They want the family of 4 to come once or twice a year and put up with the high prices because they only come once or twice a year.

    Now it's too much about endorsements and wearing different uniforms (making teams unrecognizable at times) and even different pricing for certain games even though they all count equally.

    I yearn for the days of teams caring about putting a winning team on the field, rather than caring about what bank will sponsor the left field wall.

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