The consumer watchdog group Commercial Alert fired off a letter last week to baseball commissioner Bud Selig protesting the advertisements on the uniforms of the Yankees and Devil Rays during their two-game season-opening series in Tokyo this week.
Calling Japan "an enabling venue" for the introduction of advertising on baseball duds, executive director Gary Ruskin, who co-founded Consumer Alert in 1998 with Ralph Nader, writes, "It's clear where this is headed. Small ads at first to break the ice and gain 'consumer acceptance' in the term of the marketing trade. Then a gradual creep until baseball uniforms start to resemble NASCAR racing suits and cars."
After an unfortunate and irrelevant passage in the letter about how "the game on the field has improved little since the days of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth" -- huh? -- Ruskin asks some pertinent questions of Selig: "What exactly are your plans to put ads on uniforms? If you contend that such ads will consist of small patches only, will you promise in writing that they will go no further? ... Is there anything in baseball that you won't stick an ad on? Is there anything in baseball that is not for sale?"
I think we all know the answer to those last two.
As to the first two, the New York Post reported this week that Major League Baseball is considering selling advertising on uniforms, which Advertising Age says could bring in $500 million a year. That sounds high to me, but what do I know.
"We're unashamed of the fact that we are a business," executive vice president Tim Brosnan told the Post. "We're mindful of the fans, but I don't think this is unreasonable."
As usual in this sort of discussion, Brosnan pointed out that soccer uniforms and NASCAR vehicles and suits are plastered with advertising, with no resulting destruction of civilization.
Such advertising is fine for soccer and auto racing, which don't have a century-plus aesthetic tradition surrounding their outfits. Have you seen a museum exhibit about the design history of NASCAR suits lately? Baseball has at one time or another stuck advertising on just about every flat surface within reach. And I think that's pretty much OK. Everywhere but on the rompers. Those have been sacrosanct. And that's how they should stay.
And I'm not saying that because I'm anti-business or anti-profit. By the same token, I have no problem with the billboard on the office building at the end of my street. A few miles farther down that street is the Gateway Arch, and I don't care if it raises millions to put arts programs in the schools: I don't want a billboard on that thing.
There should be a few things here and there that aren't for sale.
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For sale: This column [PERMALINK]
Which reminds me that when I mentioned recently that naming rights to this column are for sale -- I actually received two inquiries! -- I neglected to mention the price. It's $1 million per year, most of which will be spent attempting to bribe Salon's editors into abandoning their journalistic ethics and letting me make the sale.
But I'm not ashamed to admit that this column is a business -- it's what makes my new TiVo tax deductible, after all -- and I feel I'm lagging behind other sports entities in making the most of the available revenue.
Also, any city, county or state that would like to provide me with a new house built at public expense should contact me at the e-mail address below. Becoming the new home of an online daily sports column is a great way for a city to encourage downtown development and enhance its image as truly "major league."
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NHL playoffs and the Frozen Four [PERMALINK]
You've probably figured out by now that I'm not going to be making NHL playoff predictions in this column, since the playoffs started Wednesday night and here it is Thursday, and no sign of any picks.
I just can't do it. You probably know better than I what the deal is with the half of the league that's made the postseason. Fifty-three percent really, but who's counting. I haven't been joking all year when I've been saying I was waiting for the exhibition season to end and the real season to begin. Now that it's beginning, I'm ready to settle in and catch up.
How do those defending Western Conference champion Mighty Ducks look? I'm kidding. I kid.
We'll watch the playoffs together and talk about them as they proceed.
Let's also watch the Frozen Four, the ice hockey version of the Final Four, and one of my favorite sporting events. I love that it's a sort of parallel universe, just like the basketball Tournament except the perennial powers are a different crowd. Michigan, Michigan State and Boston College are big-time programs, for example, but so are North Dakota and Maine. For a while there a decade ago, Lake Superior State was a juggernaut.
The puck drops at the Fleet Center in Boston for the first semifinal Thursday at noon EDT with the Denver Pioneers taking on the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The other semi is Maine vs. B.C. at 6 p.m. EDT. ESPN2 will show both semis, and ESPN will carry the Championship Game at 7 p.m. EDT Saturday.
Perhaps we should watch these games with an eye toward that argument some of us had in these pages a few weeks ago about NHL violence, during which it was posited by some that hockey without fighting is a festival of cheap shots.
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