Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Marketing Baseball, Pt. I

In which Faster Than A Shark attempts to address some of the disadvantages Selig and friends have given themselves in competing with the other major sports. We'll start with a minor quibble, but one that is a significant PR mistake.

Every year, a good deal of in-season sportswriting and fan interest is devoted to the major annual awards, specifically the MVP, Cy Young, and in good years, rookie and batting races. These debates, while generating a whole lot of badly written articles, are a definate positive for the game, offering friendly regional rivalry between contenders, and the amplifying the constant struggle to understand the meaning and significance of statistics.
This year's AL MVP race, for example, provided fans with a healthy regional debate between Boston, New York, Minnesota, and Chicago, whose contending players also each represented a different point in the perception of player value. Should the winner be the home run and RBI leader, David Ortiz, or a player with superior rate stats in Derek Jeter, or the batting champion and player at the most important defensive position, Joe Mauer? Several candidates with more balanced cases also figured into the discussion, most prominently Justin Morneau and Jermaine Dye. Such an array of diverse MVP candidates stimulates much discussion and is a good thing for baseball in general. Even a clear-cut race, such as the one for this year's AL Cy Young, has its benefits, creating an easily recognizable moniker for an already star player: Johan Santana, the best pitcher in Major League Baseball.
The problem here is the timing. The award encompasses only the regular season, is voted on after the regular season, and is one of the biggest topics of the regular season, so why isn't it announced at the end of the regular season? By waiting until after the playoffs, MLB diffuses all of the budding interest in the award and turns it into an afterthought. It also misses the possibility of increased attention and improved storylines on award winners during important playoff games. In the speech of announcers and sportswriters last year, "Steve Nash" disappeared. Every assist, every pull-up jump shot, these were the actions of a new, improved version of the man, "MVP Steve Nash". Consider the amplification of pressure (and thus, fan interest and sportswriter hyperbole) on Alex Rodriguez, if, during his infamous 2-15 0 RBI performance in the 2005 ALDS, he was constantly being refered to as the MVP.

The announcements now come sometime in November, headlined on mlb.com but pushed to the side by ESPN and the other news outlets, and for good reason. MLB releases the winners of its most prestigious honor at the exact moment during the year when the average fan's interest level in baseball is at its lowest. In November, baseball is an afterthought: football is in full swing, basketball and the college sports are just starting - even the major events of the offseason are weeks and months away. The spirited midseason debate and interest in this awards has long since disipated by the time they are currently announced. However, if made public just between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, this debate would continue and carry on through what should be the game's showcase month. New focus would be placed on the performance of award winners in the playoffs, and whether they could 'live up' to their newly adorned titles. Sportswriter and fan interest in award winners is extra publicity for a sport that has problems drawing out of market fans for playoff broadcasts.
It's just a small example, just one little thing that could be improved. The commissioner's mandate is to act in the best interest of baseball. This pretty clearly qualifies.


Blogger Craig said...

They used to do it like that. The award was given out before the start of the postseason. There's a story, and I can't remember where I read it or who it involves, about a player who won the MVP award and then went into the tank in the World Series, and a lot of people (including, I guess, the player) blamed the pressure of having won the award for his performance. Anyway, they changed it to after the postseason to avoid having that sort of thing happen.

If I can find that story, I'll post the details.

Wed Oct 25, 03:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger David Bowie said...

I still see that effect as a positive one, for the extra publicity and interest.

Wed Oct 25, 08:09:00 PM EDT  

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