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BASEBALL AT MEMORIAL DAY: LONG, HOT SUMMER AHEAD?
Published May 30, 1995
During the Memorial Day weekend, traditionally the time when interest in baseball begins to flourish, the sport's troubled state was again a hot topic in the media. In New York, Claire Smith summed it up by writing that the strike "has clearly alienated a paying public now suspicious of the national pastime. The resultant backlash has sent ball clubs reeling as they ponder all sorts of unhappy numbers for a game now entering its crucial selling season -- Memorial Day to Labor Day" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/28). OPINION SAMPLER: In Montreal, Jack Todd reacts to acting Commissioner Bud Selig's assessment that "it's too early to make snap judgments." Todd writes, "Baseball is facing a fan revolution and baseball is in big trouble. If anything, it's already too late" (Montreal GAZETTE, 5/27). AL President Gene Budig: "The fans are still irritated. ... But I expect them to start coming back by All-Star time" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/27). In Chicago, Andrew Gottesman writes, "So far, neither passions nor bargains have succeeded in filling seats." Citing factors such as emergency marketing efforts and a lack of group sales following the strike, some team officials hope the summer will bring fans back (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/27). But Braves President Stan Kasten notes that the teams in pennant races will get attendance back up, but warns, "Many cities haven't seen the worst" (Claire Smith, N.Y. TIMES, 5/28). In Toronto, Adam Meyers sees "an industry heading for restructuring." And Richard Griffin writes that MLB needs a "Ruthian equivalent" to "make it cool to love baseball" for a new generation of fans (TORONTO STAR, 5/27). SOME TELLING STATS: BUSINESS WEEK cites Disney's purchase of a controlling interest in the Angels for "an unimpressive" $30M as a signal of the "start of a series of lowball deals." Sports Franchises Inc.'s Doug Metchick: "The day of the Baltimore Orioles selling for $175 million at auction are over." TV ad billings have fallen as much as 30% in some markets, and teams have lost up to half of their game-day promotion sponsors (Greising & Palmer, BUSINESS WEEK, 6/5 issue). TEAM MARKETING REPORT estimates a 25-30% drop in radio and TV ad revenues, with the losses as high as 30-40% in some cases. As former MLB broadcast head Bryan Burns notes, while rightsholders are being hurt now, "it will all come around" -- in the form of lower rights fees (John Helyar, WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/30). In Toronto, Larry Millson estimates MLB's revenues could drop to $1.4B this year, down from $1.88B in '93 (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 5/30). HELP WANTED? AD AGE leads the call for a marketing director for MLB. Jeff Jensen writes, "The perception is that MLB's marketing is rudderless and in need of a visionary and visible leader." On the list to head MLBP is Arlen Kantarian, Exec VP Marketing & Special Events for Radio City Music Hall Productions. However, with the MLBP job vacant since last year, Kathleen Davis, MLB Dir of Market Development, has assumed a "leadership role" and defends their efforts. Davis: "We are getting things done. With ['Welcome to the Show'], we're moving in a direction we wanted to head even before the strike" (AD AGE, 5/29 issue). Claire Smith faults baseball for not promoting the positive images of its players. Phillies President Bill Giles: "The most amazing thing is that in my lifetime we've never had a vice president of marketing or a marketing director" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/30). George Steinbrenner named five owners who should handle marketing: Wayne Huizenga (Marlins), Drayton McLane (Astros), David Glass (Royals), Jerry McMorris (Rockies) and Disney (Angels). Steinbrenner: "Let them dictate what we should do, and let those of us who evidently don't know what we're doing stay aside" (NEWSDAY, 5/29). NOMINEES FOR COMMISSIONER: Peter Gammons reports that after reading Paul Kirk's "brilliant" Declaration of Interdependence in the May 22 issue of THE SPORTING NEWS, MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr met with Kirk -- the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- and later "made it clear he is one person the players would embrace as commissioner." Fehr, on Kirk: "He is one of those rare people who sees the big picture. I am more than just impressed" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/28). In Toronto, Jim Hunt floats Blue Jays VP Pat Gillick, calling him "one of the most respected executives in baseball among both players and owners." Hunt writes that Gillick might be interested -- "if the owners would give him the same sort of power that the owners of the Blue Jays did" (TORONTO SUN, 5/29).