Major League Teams Covering Their Bases

Times Staff Writer

Advertisements will adorn the bases at big league baseball games next month in a marketing deal major league officials say adds to the entertainment value of the game but critics say brings unnecessary commercialism onto the field of play.

The marketing partnership between Sony Corp. and Major League Baseball announced Wednesday will promote the June 30 release of "Spider-Man 2" by putting an ad for the film on the bases, pitching rubbers and on-deck circles June 11-13, the first weekend of interleague play.

Fourteen of 15 home teams, including the Angels, who will play host to the Chicago Cubs for the first time in franchise history that weekend, have agreed to participate in the deal, reportedly worth $3.6 million. The New York Yankees will put ads on the bases only during batting practice, and then only for one game, team spokesman Rick Cerrone said.

The announcement of the partnership comes a week after jockeys won the right to wear ads on their uniforms in the Kentucky Derby and a month after the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays wore a Ricoh patch on their uniforms and batting helmets during a two-game series in Japan in a $10-million deal.

Presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader criticized the latter arrangement recently in a letter to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, asking him to "eliminate any current or future possibility that Major League Baseball will accept advertisements on uniforms." Marketing executives have estimated advertising on baseball uniforms could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

While purists might blanch at the encroachment of commercialism, Bob DuPuy, president and chief operating officer of MLB, described such criticism as "misplaced."

"It doesn't detract from the game, it adds to the entertainment value of the game," DuPuy said. "The logos on top of the bases won't even be seen from a ground-level camera or if you're sitting in the lower deck. ... It doesn't impact the look of the field between the foul lines."

The deal with Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony, reflects baseball's new commitment to connecting with kids, said Jacqueline Parkes, baseball's senior vice president for marketing and advertising. The second weekend in June was selected because most kids are out of school and interleague games typically draw bigger crowds.

"They're combining a fun summertime-type movie with the summer pastime," said Eric Wright, vice president of research and development for Joyce Julius & Associates in Ann Arbor, Mich. "It's a pretty neat fit, actually. I think they'll get a feel-good bounce."

Baseball fans at Angel Stadium on Wednesday weren't too surprised by news of the deal.

"It's not a turnoff for me because it's a capitalist country, and that's how owners generate revenue. It happened at the Kentucky Derby," said Don Koland, 39, a long-time Angel fan from Huntington Beach. " ... I don't have any problem with it. It's America, man."

But Jeff Nero, 33, a long-time Angel season ticket-holder reached at his home in Fullerton, said he considered himself a purist and didn't like the idea.

"Hopefully, this fails miserably and baseball finds out it's not like NASCAR, which uses promotions at every opportunity," he said. "There's too much history in baseball to use it for commercial purposes."

Angel designated hitter Tim Salmon said it would be somewhat hypocritical for players to assail the arrangement despite their desire to preserve the sanctity of the game.

"Yeah, we're traditionalists," Salmon said, "but at the same time, we realize we make a lot of money, and baseball markets us, and that's why we're all in this thing. You recognize the fact that it's an entertainment business."

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) criticized the plan in a letter to Selig on Wednesday. "For decades, fans have tolerated advertisements that encroach closer and closer to the baseball diamond, but to put ads on the actual bases goes one step too far," he said. He asked Selig to engage the fans in a dialogue "before haphazardly placing advertisements on the baseball diamond."

The specially designed first, second and third bases feature an about 4-inch-by-4-inch "Spider-Man 2" logo with black and yellow webbing set against a bright red background. Commemorative movie designs will also adorn home plate and the pitching rubber before the games but will be removed before the first pitch.

While bases have featured commemorative designs for World Series and All-Star games and ads for Century 21 real estate were on bases during a home run derby, this will mark the first commercial decoration of bases during regular-season games. But DuPuy said he didn't think the arrangement "portends any significant trend with where marketing opportunities might be headed with baseball."

Salmon said he has seen increased commercialization of the game over the last dozen years, but it has remained confined to the periphery until now.

"This would be the first one that's kind of inside the lines," he said. "Then again, all your equipment has labels on it -- Nike, Rawlings, they're making their mark."

The deal, which has been in the works for more than a year, also includes stadium signage, movie trailers on scoreboards, Spider-Men climbing light towers and giveaways including plastic masks and foam hands.

Big-market teams such as the Yankees and Boston Red Sox will receive more than $100,000 each, with the Angels receiving an amount "in that ballpark," according to Robert Alvarado, the team's director of marketing. DuPuy said the bulk of the remaining money would be distributed evenly among all 30 teams at the end of the season.

Though some teams will feature the movie logos in their stadiums for only one game during the weekend, the Angels have agreed to do so for all three games, at their own behest.

"Nothing was forced on us," Alvarado said. "It was something we evaluated and said, 'Yeah, we'd like to be a part of.' We saw a lot of value in being associated with that movie release. A big blockbuster movie release is universally appealing to youth in a summer period. If it helps us get more youth into the ballpark and gives them a way to sample baseball, great."

Wright, the marketing analyst, said resistance to the latest marketing ploy should be short-lived, noting that the furor over rotating signage behind home plate has cooled considerably over the last few years.

"Every time they take it to the next level, there's a lot of teeth gnashing and this-is-going-to-kill the sport sentiment," he said. "It hasn't so far. What's offensive today becomes the norm tomorrow."


Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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