Angels fans may have been going nuts listening to an inconsequential late-September game in Oakland, one that would end in a 21-3 loss. Right about the eighth inning, an Angels hitter fouled a pitch off, breaking his bat, and there was a long pause as he walked back to the dugout to find a new stick.
Actually, it was.
Mark Gubicza, the Angels’ game analyst on the KLAA-AM (830) radio broadcast, grabbed a sheet and started a live commercial read for Wonderful Pistachios — the company bought sponsorship for any such cracked- or broken-bat occurrence this season. And the ad’s tagline: “Let’s get crackin’.”
“I didn’t know there are so many sponsor reads during radio games,” said Gubicza, whose normal gig the last dozen years has been in the Fox Sports West TV booth. “After a while it can get kind of hilarious, like that one. You try to incorporate them so they’re fun, and you’re having a good time with them.”
Clever, corny or even a little cockamamie, you find there is an art to what is called the live drop-in. Particularly those predicated on a specific thing happening on the field during live action.
On Angels broadcasts this season, spots were created for a replay challenge (a TV store), a “call to the bullpen” (Farmer John), a lineup change (In-N-Out), a stolen base (a security company) and even during the MLB disclaimer about “accounts of this game cannot be retransmitted without permission” (a local lawyer).
“If you talk to some old-school producers about it, they realize we have so many things sponsored now, and sometimes, you don’t always have the right moment happen,” said Gubicza. “That’s when you really have to spin it and somehow make it work.”
The Dodgers’ KLAC-AM (570) broadcasts that continue through the playoffs also have about a dozen spots. It starts with a cleaning service when introducing the umpiring crew (and the sound effect of a broom whisking off home plate). There are also ones for a Dodgers home run (“that trip around the diamond” brought to you by a local jeweler), a caught-stealing play (a security alarm system) or someone sliding into a base (the OUE SkySlide in downtown L.A.).
“We’ve called them ‘never-been-dones,’ ” said Don Martin, the iHeartRadio senior vice president of Los Angeles sports, whose company is the flagship station for the Dodgers, Clippers and UCLA, and recently set up the Kings’ audio app.
“It’s all about marrying up the partner to the content. The key is to make them short, simple and then get out of the way. They can’t impede or infringe on the integrity of the game.”
But sometimes they do. Consider the Chicago White Sox have started home games at 7:11 p.m. each weeknight in part so the broadcasters could tell everyone it was the “7-Eleven” first pitch. That deal ran out in 2017.
“I’ve always thought about doing a mock baseball game where every single event in a game is sponsored by someone — ‘That’s ball two, brought to you by …’ ” said Nick Nickson, the Kings’ Hall of Fame radio play-by-play man.
Nickson actually has few chances in live action to bring in a play-related sponsor read for hockey games, other than the injury reports (a local health provider) or the “keys to the game” spot (a car company). In the postgame show, Nickson retries a call that fits into the “Nestlé’s Crunch Hit of the Game.”
Why not a trip to the penalty box sponsored by a bail bondsman? A slashing penalty endorsement from a Hollywood horror flick?
“You can’t put a sponsor in a negative light,” warns Martin, who has created marketing-meets-programming dialogue for more than 20 years ago. “You can’t be making fun of anything.”
It’s funny enough when the timing of these reads goes sideways.
Lakers radio play-by-play man John Ireland did Clippers games some 20 years ago and will never forget how an adult beverage company known as “the official beer of the time out” had every timeout covered.
“At the end of games, sometimes there are six timeouts in the final two minutes,” Ireland said. “But every time, we had to drop it in. After we had so many timesouts once, our engineer said, ‘I could have drunk a six-pack of Corona just waiting for this game to end.’ ”
Spero Dedes, Ireland’s predecessor with the Lakers, will never forget the last Lakers contest of the 2010-11 season. They were losing by about 40 points, getting swept out of the playoffs in Dallas, and Phil Jackson was likely ending his coaching career.
“Here we are, truly the end of an era,” Dedes said. “As the final horn sounds, I’m doing the best I can to capture the gravity of the moment. But right before we signed off, I realized I’d missed a promo read. There was no way I could blow it off.
“So those final seconds went something like this: ‘There goes Phil Jackson, walking off the floor …’ in my best dramatic-sounding voice I could muster. I then paused. And mortified, read a promo for In-N-Out Burger: ‘And that’s what a hamburger's aaaaaaaaall about!’
“It was pretty awful.”