Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


You know you're going through baseball withdrawl when you're still checking the newswire five (or more) times a day even though Spring Training is still over a month away.

The Anaheim Angels just made one of the worst marketing decisions I've ever heard of, renaming themselves The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim so that they could reap the benefits of targeting Los Angeles fans, who are theoretically getting fed up with the bad decisions being made by Dodgers management, even though the Dodgers ranked second last year behind the Yankees and ahead of the Angels in attendance. The problem with this is that not only is the name stupid (In spanish, they're the Los Angeles Angeles de Anaheim?), Los Angeles is an entity completely separate of Anaheim, and worst of all it doesn't take basic human nature into account. This name change (hopefully) might not last long, as the city of Anaheim will take legal measures, but it still reflects a pigheadedness that plagues both owners and players in the sport.

No self-respecting L.A. resident is going to identify with a team with Los Angeles in its name if the team is forty miles away in a different city. If the San Francisco Giants renamed themselves the San Francisco Giants of Oakland, they're not going to pull fans away from the Athletics. The reason no one follows the Golden State Warriors of basketball anymore is not because of the relative anonymity and vagueness of their name; it's because they suck ass. If a L.A. resident is going to follow Anaheim, they probably do so already. Anyone that enjoyed Anaheim enjoyed it for what it was, a team right next to Disneyland with a pretty stadium, a team with exciting talent (Vlad the Impaler, a team that is a perennial playoff contender, a team boasting some of the cheapest ticket prices out there.

If anything, this renaming move will drive fans away as they realize that they're being manipulated by the greedy owners for a couple of extra bucks. I've read several accounts that cite Angels fans as some of the best fans in the country, in terms of politeness and knowledge of their team, St. Louis fans possibly being the best (Yankees and Red Sox fans need not apply), but I wonder if they're going to take very well to this bastardization of their team name. In all likelyhood, they'll still come, just to watch Vlad, but it's still not a good marketing decision to piss off your existing demographic to pander to another that hasn't even expressed interest.

I'm not from California (only lived there for a couple years), but I'm pretty sure that most Californians identify as strongly with certain regions (Bay Area, LA, Sacramento, Anaheim) as much as an Ivy League student identifies him or herself with their respective school. The renaming of Anaheim would be like Dartmouth renaming itself University of Pennsylvania-Dartmouth College. No one from Dartmouth would say that they went to UPenn, and the students at UPenn would look around in befuddlement and wonder what in the hell they were smoking up in Hanover, NH. One of the reasons New York used to be able to support three teams was because people identified so heavily with their area, the Bronx or Brooklyn. That and the fact that one of them was always winning. Nowadays, everyone outside of Queens and most Queens residents seem to be Yankees fans, but we won't go there.

The Angels drew over 3 million fans to their games last year. This is coming off a World Series win, to be sure, but they had done a very good job bringing in locals and tourists alike with the promise of a good time and the rally monkey. Now there was a good marketing decision. Get your fans involved with ThunderStix and the Rally Monkey, ploys that everyone else in the U.S. will soon tire of, and you've got a fan base that identifies with its team, is willing to defend it, root for it, and participate at a deafening rate at home games. Plus, they'll buy ThunderStix and Rally Monkeys like hotcakes.

This is what I don't understand about the people that market the sport of baseball. If you're marketing a team like the Indians or the Braves, sell derivative and insulting foam products. This sets your fans apart. Easy enough. The Angels have their Rally Monkey. The Yankees have their pride (read: arrogance). The Cubs, and until recently, the Red Sox, had their respective curses. Also easy enough.

But the best way to market your team, and the best way to distinguish yourself from a nearby team, is not to rename your team, possibly angering your existing fan base, but to WIN. Win a World Series. Get into the playoffs and come dangerously close to winning even; some might say that doing this is better than winning. Sign a big name free agent, someone showy who can make great plays in the field and wields a bat of mythic proportions, that has a good P.R. image. It's that easy. The only one caveat is if your team always wins, but never wins the World Series, after which your fans get tired of winning. Atlanta finds themselves in this predicament, but it's rather unique to them.

There are two teams in Chicago, one North Side and one South. Both franchises are storied and among the oldest in baseball. The Cubs have the Sosa, the Ivy at Wrigley and their curse, and the White Sox . . . well, the White Sox don't have very much else, which is their marketing problem. They don't win. They're less popular not because of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, but because they never win. They win less than the Cubs, and no one cares, because the Cubs at least come close to winning. They used to attract fans with Big Frank Thomas, but now that he's in decline, they need to find a new solution.

Detroit has been plagued with one of the worst seasons ever, a weakening local economy, and they still are on the upswing, mainly because they've started winning and they have a legitimate personality in Pudge Rodriguez, who held onto the ball (NLDS) and won the Marlins a World Series.

Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles is worried about the new Washington Nationals not because there is some limit on the number of fans in the area, but because he's not willing to spend enough so that the Orioles can win. That Jeff Maier kid kind of ruined the franchise, but he's just another excuse in the end. The Orioles retooled last year and had a decent team this year, but where have they been this offseason? Why did they not land Pedro, or Clement, or Wells?

Marketing when you've been given something popularly known as "America's Pasttime", that carries with it the biggest charge of nostalgia imaginable, is not difficult. Usually, the equation runs something like Home Runs + Wins = $$$$ And yet people manage to completely screw up. We've not trying to sell hockey in San Jose here, people. Baseball has enjoyed two of its best years EVER in the last two years, what with both the cursed teams in the playoffs, several heart-stopping playoff series, and some great talents emerging (Pujols, anyone?). It has been good enough that people are almost willing to say "BALCO, shmalco" and turn back to ESPN's Baseball Tonight.

This is the sport of Boys of Summer, of Ruth and Mays and Mantle and Jackie Robinson, that neither gambling nor steroids can detract from (yet). The only thing baseball has to fear is itself. Strikes and selfishness and skyrocketing contracts are the only things that make people sniff at the sport. Players are to blame as much as owners on that one. You can be a great player and have your nine figure contract, but you need to at least project a good public image. Want a bigger contract? Don't strike. Don't be a bitch to the media. Play ball and let your bat and your P.R. firm do the rest.

Basketball is as popular as it is because of two letters. M. J. He was arrogant, and kind of a jackass retrospectively, but he knew how to market himself. It's too bad no one can step up to bat for the MLB and do the same thing. I'm not saying that all the players are selfish drunks. But at the same time, no player has stepped forward to be the face of the sport for a generation yet. Not really. Free agency hurts, and someone like Clemens would have been iconic had he stayed with one team his whole career. Jeter, possibly Nomar, are the only players I can think of that have the marketability, the ability to inspire both love and hate, to be called an icon.

It's not hard to get people to come to your ballpark and eat overpriced sausage and nachos on a hot summer's day with as much expensive domestic beer as they can drink until the seventh inning. Not hard at all. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Rally Monkey could do it.


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