Sunoco Debuts "Essence Of Racing" Campaign Executive Transactions Isiah Thomas Expected Backlash Over Hiring FanDuel Brings On Most Of Zynga Sports Team Georgia Approves Increased Athletic Budget Kentucky Adding Ribbon Boards At Rupp IndyCar Ponders How To Attract Fans Long Term Jeff Gordon Hired As Full-Time Analyst For Fox Danica's Sponsorship Status To Be Telling For NASCAR Classified Advertisements
SBD/March 31, 2014/MLB Season PreviewPrint All
MLB is entering the new season with a new lead creative agency, BBDO, N.Y., and "invoking the L-word -- love -- to describe how fans feel about the sport, and how everyone else should, too," according to Stuart Elliott of the N.Y. TIMES. The campaign, entitled "For the love of baseball," begins "with a salute to opening day." The campaign will "proceed with commercials that celebrate how attending a game can provide 'memories that last forever' and salute young star players" such as Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw, Rays P David Price and Angels CF Mike Trout. The campaign "will be accompanied by initiatives in social media like Facebook and Twitter as well as a wave of efforts by marketing and media partners" of MLB, including Budweiser, ESPN, FS1, New Era, Pepsi and Sony. BBDO was "awarded the lead creative duties last month, assuming them from Hill Holliday in Boston, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, which remains the creative agency" for MLB Fan Cave. BBDO President & CEO John Osborn said the ad's goal is "to celebrate the journey, the season, as much as the destination." In the Opening Day commercial, "cap-tips to recent opening day exploits" by Kershaw and Nationals LF Bryce Harper are "accompanied by scenes" of Hank Aaron tying Babe Ruth’s home-run record, and Jackie Robinson when he broke the color barrier in professional baseball. A commercial entitled "Always There" for Budweiser also "takes a then-and-now tack, recreating milestones" such as Ruth’s purchase by the Yankees in '19 and "The Catch" by Willie Mays in '54. The ad concludes with "a glimpse of a contemporary Cardinals game at Busch Stadium" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/31).
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig today lauded the league's new drug-testing policy, saying there is "no question we have the toughest testing program in American sports." MLB and the MLBPA on Friday announced increased testing protocols and penalties for use of PEDs. A first-time violation now yields an 80-game suspension, up from 50 games; a second-time violation warrants a 162-game suspension, up from 100 games; and a third violation remains a lifetime suspension. Players violating the policy also will be ineligible to play in the postseason that season or receive playoff shares. Appearing on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike," Selig said, "The players’ association played a very constructive, active role in that process, and I give them great credit.” He added, “Not only are the penalties stiffer, but if you really read the program carefully, there is no question that there are more things that people get penalized for. There are many more tests now. ... It is a manifestation of how well we have worked with the players’ association." Selig said of the 80-game ban for a first offense, "I would hope if you have any thoughts at all or brain in your head, you‘re not going to fool around." He added, "You go to 162, and now you’re really talking seriously" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 3/31). The new deal has been in development for more than a year, with talks beginning shortly after blood testing for HGH was added in January ’13. But last summer’s Biogenesis investigation amplified certain issues around the program. The changes also contain two provisions aimed at lessening problems around inadvertent ingestion of banned substances. Players will now have year-round access to supplements not on the banned list, and an independent arbitrator will have the ability to reduce suspensions if players can prove substances in question were not taken to enhance performance (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).USATODAY.com, 3/28).
PLAYERS A DRIVING FORCE: In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch wrote the new drug policy "isn’t some draconian, unilateral proclamation that Selig cooked up in the middle of the night, daring the union to take him to court." Rather, an MLB official said, "Most of (the changes) came from the players themselves." Klapisch noted there was "no contractual incentive for the union to strengthen the policy," as the CBA does not expire until after the '16 season. The "only reason to do so was to root out the game’s rule breakers" (Bergen RECORD, 3/30). MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian said, “Players are tired of the general public’s perception that everybody is on steroids. They don’t want that out there anymore. So the players were just as big a part of this as management was." MLB Network's Tom Verducci: "In a short period of time, it has really flipped where the players now are being outspoken and their voices are being heard" ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 3/28). Tigers P Max Scherzer said, "The players want a clean game from all angles. I think what we did was we addressed a lot of different areas where we needed to improve in our JDA. Through the leadership of [MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark] and the rest of the Players Association, we accomplished that" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 3/31). Indians 1B Nick Swisher: "We are making strides to let guys know that if you do take a chance of doing this, you will get caught." He added, "You break the law you've got to pay" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 3/29). Angels P C.J. Wilson: "I hope this is the padlock, and closes this chapter. We don't want to keep going through this" (MLB.com, 3/28). Red Sox P Jon Lester: "Obviously, the 50 games wasn't enough to maybe make these guys think twice about it. Hopefully 80 games takes enough money out of these guys' pockets. ... Hopefully this will weed out 99 percent of the guys" (ESPN.com, 3/29).
LEGACY BUILDER: MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal wondered if the new testing policy reflects the legacy late MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner left. Rosenthal: "It actually does, because his position ... was always that penalties and increased penalties, that was not enough. That was not enough of a deterrent. He was not even sure it was a deterrent." MLB Network's Bob Costas said former union leaders Marvin Miller, Don Fehr and Gene Orza all were "so completely wrong on this issue, and it is a demerit on their respective legacies." Costas: "It is a plus for the late Michael Weiner and now for the early tenure of Tony Clark." He noted players during the 90s and 00s either "wouldn’t say anything at all, it was just this code of silence, or it was like, ‘What’s the problem?’" Costas: "They were taking all of their cues from Fehr and Orza. ... Eventually, there were little cracks in that and now the whole thing is busted wide open, and for the better” ("MLB Tonight,” MLB Network, 3/28).
A record 15 MLB teams have an Opening Day payroll of at least $100M, "including five exceeding" $150M, according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Nightengale: "Here's where the industry stands: The Yankees spent $500 million on free agents, lowered their payroll -- and were lauded for their business acumen." Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who have an $8.35B deal with TWC SportsNet LA, with 3 million tickets already sold this season, could have a $500M payroll "without blinking." It is "no wonder" they have $216.5M "already on the books for next year," with another $182M in '16. Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten said, "There has been criticism inside baseball, but that's OK. We're supposed to be contenders every year. We're the Dodgers" (USA TODAY, 3/31). Meanwhile, USA TODAY's Scott Miller notes six of the nine "highest-payroll clubs in baseball entering last season were sitting at home in October," but three of the five clubs with the "lowest payrolls in the game in 2013 were playing in October." It is the "success of clubs such as the Rays and A's that lead even those with limited funds to think baseball remains a mostly egalitarian endeavor" (USA TODAY, 3/31).
PAYROLL NOTE: Figures listed below are for the 856 players on Opening Day rosters and disabled lists. Deferred payments and incentive clauses are not included. Team payrolls do not include money paid or received in trades or players released (USA TODAY, 3/31).
'14 MLB OPENING DAY PAYROLLS
NO. TEAM PAYROLL 1) Dodgers $241,128,402 2) Yankees $208,830,659 3) Phillies $187,621,056 4) Tigers $163,078,526 5) Red Sox $154,380,395 6) Giants $148,239,158 7) Nationals $134,366,735 8) Rangers $132,491,596 9) Blue Jays $129,427,700 10) Angels $128,046,500 11) Reds $112,378,771 12) D-Backs $111,798,833 13) Cardinals $108,020,360 14) Brewers $102,724,338 15) Orioles $105,084,121 16) Rockies $99,579,071 17) Braves $97,855,673 18) Royals $90,481,500 19) Padres $89,881,695 20) White Sox $89,551,982 21) Mariners $89,539,642 22) Twins $84,912,500 23) Mets $84,281,011 24) Indians $82,500,800 25) Rays $82,035,490 26) Pirates $77,845,999 27) A's $77,220,900 28) Cubs $74,546,356 29) Astros $44,985,800 30) Marlins $41,836,900
With MLB teams increasingly looking to up their social media game, Twitter’s year-old video sharing app, Vine, could be in for a big season in the sport. The app allows users to send a six-second, compiled video loop of different snippets in time. Since its debut, the app has become a staple of many sports teams’ social media arsenal due to its simplicity, ability to seamlessly show different moments around games and its propensity to produce viral content. Social media managers across the league are looking not only at ways to get more creative with the app, but potentially boost revenue with it as well. Royals Dir of Digital & Social Media Erin Sleddens said, “Since last season was really the first year in which Vine was available, it was kind of an experimental year with it.” Up to this point, overarching themes that many MLB teams have been using for Vines include highlighting off-the-field events, catching players in their pre-game routines such as batting practice and showing other behind-the-scenes moments. MLB’s official Vine account, for example, shared a Vine earlier this month in which a baseball was captured at landmarks all around Sydney ahead of the Dodgers-D-Backs series. The postcard feel of the video helped it become the league’s second most retweeted Vine.
SUPPLY & DEMAND: Vine has become an ideal medium to share the behind-the-curtain scenes fans increasingly demand. Giants Dir of Social Media Bryan Srabian, who adopted Vine for the team right after its initial release, said, “That’s what has been the most popular way for us in capturing those moments that might be that one or two hours before the game, might be behind-the-scenes at Spring Training, might be a way for us to unveil a bobblehead or something else in the office.” Another attractive aspect of Vine for teams is that its videos are so short that, at six seconds, it appears to have hit a timing sweet spot in a world in which attention spans tend to be short. Yet another attractive aspect of Vine is its seeming penchant to elicit higher rates of social interaction. Srabian said that he has not specifically tracked interaction rates to see if one social medium has attracted more than others, but added Vine is “not only easy for us to upload and share; it’s easy for the fan to consume, so it would make sense that they have a higher rate.”
INTEGRATED PLANS: MLBAM Social Media Coordinator Erik Reitmeyer has been behind many of the league’s more popular Vine videos, including its viral first in which he took a baseball completely apart. He said now that Vine is becoming more of a mainstream app, the organization will be looking to further integrate it into MLB’s and teams’ homepages this upcoming season. He added, “This way, our fans that don’t have a Twitter or don’t have a Vine can still see our content.“ Sleddens predicted scripted Vines may be a theme this season and added of the Royals’ upcoming strategy, “We plan to continue to use it for creative storytelling, maybe personalized messages from players and other behind-the-scenes stuff to connect fans with the team.” Srabian said of the Giants’ plans, “There’s a huge opportunity in that it’s a very interesting kind of viewer that looks at Vine. There are a lot of different ways that you can tell a story on it, so we’ll go a little off brand and just experiment.”
The Red Sox are the "envy of baseball for their combination of financial resources, robust farm system, and a stable leadership triangle" of Owner John Henry, GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell, according to John Tomase of the BOSTON HERALD. Those three "have a vision for the future built around homegrown talent, and they’re not wavering from it." The "temptation after any title is immediately trying to duplicate it," and the Red Sox had "ample opportunity this winter to go all-in." The cost "would’ve been future flexibility, as well as the development" of players like CF Jackie Bradley Jr. or C Blake Swihart. The Red Sox have "undertaken a shift back to the principles that made them a curse-busting World Series champ a decade ago -- build from within, spend smartly in free agency, lock up your cornerstone players long-term without sacrificing future flexibility" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/31). In Boston, Peter Abraham noted filling holes on the roster with "less expensive players will enable the Red Sox to have the kind of roster and payroll flexibility all teams cherish and only a few have" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/30). The BOSTON HERALD's Tomase writes the Yankees "act out of desperation because they have to," as their farm system "ranks anywhere from 16th to 23rd in publications like Baseball America." But the Red Sox "own a consensus top-five organization." The Red Sox have a "long-term plan, and they’re sticking to it," while the Yankees are "applying bandages to a limping roster with $100 bills, and the more expensive that triage center gets, the greater the gap between the two organizations grows." The Red Sox are in a "better place, and they know it" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/31).
TALKING TECH: The Red Sox have signed a multiyear partnership with Boston-based global services outfit Sapient Corp. Sapient will gain signage on the Green Monster at Fenway Park, become the digital strategy partner of club parent Fenway Sports Group, and aid in the development of digitally oriented fan experiences, designed in part to attract younger audiences. Sapient has previously worked with ESPN on digital projects surrounding the X Games. The company joins Foxwoods Resort Casino as new sponsors on the Green Monster (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). Red Sox COO and FSG President Sam Kennedy said, "We recognize if we don’t connect with the next generation of fans, we are dead." It is "too early to know exactly what steps the Sox will take," but Kennedy said that the team hopes Sapient will "provide insight into what excites its fans ... perhaps using Twitter as a high-tech focus group" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/31).
Tickets for today's Red Sox-Orioles Opening Day game are "sold out, even though their face value" is at least 5% "higher than last season," according to Childs Walker of the Baltimore SUN. TiqIQ data showed that on the secondary market, the "cheapest seats are selling for more than $100 and the most expensive for more than $1,000, with an average of about $222." Orioles VP/Communications & Marketing Greg Bader said that the signings of RF Nelson Cruz and P Ubaldo Jimenez "prompted a rare late-February bump to season-ticket sales." Walker noted for many fans, the "wounds from 14 straight years of losing lurked just below the surface." Which was "perhaps why the club's spending spree at the beginning of spring training produced such euphoria, both within the organization and among its most ardent supporters." The "big money spent on the two players felt like a promise kept," a sign that Owner Peter Angelos and his front office "shared the fans' passion." The Orioles "hadn't simply taken a cheapskate pass on the offseason," but instead they "lay in the weeds until a late-developing player market yielded a few reasonably priced opportunities" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/30).
IN MEMORY: In Baltimore, Eduardo Encina noted even though the Orioles have made plans to honor late Dir of PR Monica Barlow as "part of a pregame ceremony on Opening Day, players would like to have another way to remember Barlow on the field throughout the season." But that is "not the easiest thing to do," because MLB has "strict uniform regulations that prevent players from making alterations to uniforms on their own." The Orioles will "honor Barlow -- as well as team investor and Baltimore-born novelist Tom Clancy, former Gold Glove outfielder Paul Blair and 10 other members of the Orioles family who passed away since last Opening Day -- during a pregame video tribute" today. But Orioles 1B Chris Davis last week said that Barlow "meant so much to them as players that they have discussed ways to carry her memory onto the field with them during every game." One idea "being considered is making a jersey with Barlow’s name on it to hang in the dugout during games, much like the Red Sox did last year with a 'Boston Strong 617' jersey following the Boston Marathon bombings." MLB Senior VP/PR Pat Courtney said that that idea "could work." The team "wouldn’t need MLB permission to make a jersey" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/30). Orioles SS J.J. Hardy said of Barlow, "She was one of us. She was around us for the 162 games. She was around us as much as our teammates" (Baltimore SUN, 3/31). Also in Baltimore, Dan Connolly writes under the header, "Remembering Monica Barlow At The First Opening Day After Her Death" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/31).
A "dismal product on the field hurts the Astros' business operations, both in terms of getting their messy TV situation resolved and simply putting people in the seats," and fan tolerance "probably can't be pushed much further, although testing that theory could be interesting," according to Evan Drellich of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said Owner Jim Crane is "very much on board. He is, at the end of the day, the architect of the plan. I happened to articulate it in a way that matched his vision, but he is the architect and very supportive of what we're doing. Having said that, Jim is very anxious to get through this next phase and get to the point where the Astros are being celebrated in our town." The Astros have "three primary revenue streams: local TV dollars and local media; national dollars -- which are distributed evenly among MLB teams; and in-stadium revenues." Astros President of Baseball Operations Reid Ryan said that growth for the organization will come from in-stadium revenues, "with the TV situation an unknown." Ryan said, "For me, it comes down to if we want to see growth within our organization, the winning on the field directly correlates to business success over the long term, which in turn correlates to being able to maintain and attract premium players" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/29). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes the Astros have the lowest payroll in MLB at $45M (up from $26M in '13). But Luhnow said that the TV uncertainty "had not affected that figure or the team’s budget for amateur talent." MLB's CBA "allows the team with the worst record to spend more to sign amateurs, without penalties, than any other team," and the Astros believe they are "using the system to their advantage, with hopes of a payoff later" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/31).
OUT AT THE PLATE: In Houston, David Barron notes tomorrow's opener against the Yankees will "begin the Astros' second year with limited coverage in its five-state TV territory." The carriage impasse with CSN Houston "continues in part because Houston consumers who have a choice essentially loathe Comcast and/or love DirecTV, Dish Network or U-verse more than they love the Astros and Rockets." CSN Houston's future to a "large degree rests with U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes." Not only will Hughes "hear the Astros' appeal" of the order placing the network into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the Rockets, Astros and Comcast have "empowered him to mediate a settlement to their disagreements about how the network should be managed." The parties "met behind closed doors for more than seven hours Friday, and more sessions are possible" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/31).
The Mets' ballpark-related revenue reported to regulators "dropped for the fourth straight year" in '13, down nearly 34% since Citi Field opened in '09, according to a financial statement cited by Jim Baumbach of NEWSDAY. Ballpark-related revenue -- which "includes premium-ticket sales, advertising, concessions, parking and luxury suites" -- for '13 was $119.2M, down from the $180.4M reported for '09. The Mets have "suffered through five straight years with a losing record, and attendance has declined in every season since the ballpark opened." Attendance in '13 was 2,135,657, compared to 3,154,262 in the inaugural season at Citi Field. The attendance drop "can be seen in the Mets' revenue from premium seats, which represent nearly a quarter of all seats in the stadium." That revenue fell almost 5% in '13 from '12. The team reported taking in $41.9M from the sale of 10,635 premium seats last season, a decrease from $44M in '12 and $99.3M in '09. The filing also "shows that revenue from concessions decreased" to $10.7M last year from $11.4M in '12. Parking revenue fell to $6.9M last season from $7.5M in '12. The Mets did "see a slight uptick in luxury box revenue," to $8.9M from $8.7M in '12. Not included in the financial report "are other revenue streams for the Mets, such as the remaining seats at Citi Field and its television rights deal with SportsNet NY." Also not included are "the team's major expenses such as the player payroll," which is expected to be around $89M this season compared with approximately $140M in '11. Experts have said that the Mets' "drops in premium-ticket sales and some other ballpark-related revenue may soon be a thing of the past." For example, the '13 figure for ballpark-related revenue, at $119.2M, "was down slightly" from $121.5M the year before (NEWSDAY, 3/30).
BOMBERS NOT BANKERS: NEWSDAY's Baumbach cited a Yankees financial report as showing that the team's luxury-box revenue declined nearly 21% last season from the year before, which the team "attributes to missing the playoffs for the first time in five years and injuries to star players." The Yankees reported $278.8M in ticket and luxury-box revenue for the '13 season, down from $352.9M the year before. The $278.8M "included postseason refunds or credits" of $21.2M. The '13 figure "represents the team's lowest single-season ticket revenue since it moved into the new Yankee Stadium" in '09, when ticket revenue totaled $397M. The team's ticket and luxury-box revenue declined 29.8% from '09-13. Yankees COO Lonn Trost said, "This was not the typical Yankee team, and the injuries really had a change in the public's awareness and the buying of tickets during the year. We were obviously not surprised the ticket purchases were down" (NEWSDAY, 3/30).
The Marlins this season are "hoping to end a run of three consecutive last-place finishes and equally poor results at the turnstiles," according to Spencer & Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. After a 100-loss season in which the Marlins "also pulled up the rear in league attendance," team execs "have taken a series of steps ... in hopes of producing more wins and larger crowds." To help boost attendance the Marlins "have lowered most ticket prices." Marlins President David Samson said, "It's supply and demand. We want more people. We didn't perform the way we should have performed. We're going to lower prices." When the Marlins moved into their new ballpark in '12, they said that they "expected to average at least 30,000 spectators per game and sell 15,000 season tickets annually, at least for the first few years." Even after an offseason "devoid of any public relations disasters, the Marlins are still trying to reach 5,000 season tickets." The team also is introducing a rewards system. Marlins Senior VP/Marketing & Event Booking Sean Flynn indicated that the program "will be available only to season-ticket holders this year, but to all ticket holders" beginning in '15. Season-ticket holders "will receive varying amounts of points for buying tickets, actually attending the games, posting Marlins-requested messages on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and purchasing merchandise at the team store." Points "can be redeemed for tickets to future games, suite access, game-used bats or baseballs, retail items and passes to concerts or other Marlins Park events" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/31). Samson believes that the "slow pace of games might be hurting attendance and has told players to hurry it up" in a bid to make games faster. In Miami, Barry Jackson reported there also will be "more entertainment" at Marlins Park this season, with "concerts and parties in the Clevelander area on the east plaza on select Saturdays" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/30).
MAYORAL MALAISE: In Miami, Douglas Hanks wrote the Marlins heading into the new season "still face a tough sell with one of the country’s most reliable niche of baseball fans: Hometown mayors." Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez recently said, "I've never actually seen the Marlins play at Marlins stadium." Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said that he "has attended one Marlins game in two years, an outing with his grandchildren." He does not want the visit "mistaken for reconciliation, after joining Gimenez" in opposing the '09 deal that sent about $490M in borrowed government dollars to build the $645M Marlins Park and parking garages (MIAMI HERALD, 3/29).
Pirates Senior Dir of Communications Brian Warecki said that season-ticket sales are up 40% from a year ago, and the club "is projected to top last season's record 23 sellouts." In Pittsburgh, Bob Cohn reported Opening Day tickets "average about $83 on the secondary market," 50% more than last year's opener and the highest recorded for a Pirates regular-season game. Ticket aggregator SeatGeek data showed that the Pirates' Opening Day tickets "are the sixth-most actively traded in MLB." Meanwhile, online retailer Fanatics data showed that since Dec. 1, the Pirates' national merchandise sales were 300% higher than "in the same period last year." Only the Red Sox "improved more." Fanatics reported sales of Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen-related merchandise during the period "ranks fifth among all players" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/30).
MOORE OR LESS: In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes under the header, "Royals' 2014 Season Will Be Referendum On Moore." Last season "cannot be the high-water mark for eight years" of Royals Chair & Owner David Glass "investing in the Royals’ farm system infrastructure, as well as four franchise record payrolls" during Senior VP/Baseball Operations & GM Dayton Moore’s time in charge. This is Moore's eighth Opening Day with the Royals, and only four MLB GMs in the last 50 years "have made it to nine without at least one playoff appearance." With the extra playoff spot "available now, there are no more excuses" (K.C. STAR, 3/31).
IT ALL HELPS: Twins President Dave St. Peter thinks that the April 7 home opener versus the A's "will sell out" and added that interest in this year’s All-Star Game at Target Field "has helped keep season ticket sales healthy." He added, "We think we’re going to land somewhere right around 17,500 full-season equivalents by Opening Day. ... Clearly that’s a number that’s down from a year ago, but still I think it’s remarkable, considering the way we’ve played." St. Peter: "Our full-season ticket holders ultimately purchased about 90 percent of the All-Star tickets they had access to. Our partial (season ticket owners) plans will go on sale here in a couple weeks" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/31).
WAHOO WATCH: Indians President Mark Shapiro said of whether the Chief Wahoo mascot should be abolished, "We continue to listen to our fans. We listen to all of our fans and sympathize with fans who find it to be a concern, and we also hear from fans who are loudly voicing that it's a symbol of their generational bond with the team and the game" (CRAINSCLEVELAND.com, 3/28).
With the new MLB season comes a revamped look to Fox’ top broadcast booth, as Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci are replacing Tim McCarver as analysts to go with play-by-play announcer Joe Buck. Reynolds and Verducci both have experience in the analyst role, but calling the All-Star Game and World Series proves to be somewhat of a transition. Verducci recently caught up with THE DAILY to talk about his new role, how the implementation of instant replay will influence his call and how MLB can grow interest among America’s youth.
Q: What is your feeling about this new gig with Fox? Any trepidation at all?
Verducci: I’m really excited about it. I get excited about every baseball season around this time but especially around this year. Being in the booth with Joe and Harold, it’s just going to be really fun for me. It’s nice going in because I’ve known both of those guys for a long time, and with Harold, we’ve both had a lot of reps together both on and off camera watching games and highlights.
Q: What kind of transition do you expect in moving to Fox’ top broadcast team, more specifically on a three-man team?
Verducci: For me, I have some experience doing this. I’ve been doing games on Fox for the last two years in a two-man booth and I’ve done games on MLB Network going back to ’09. I feel like I’ve got a lot of good reps to rely on. I think a three-man booth certainly is different than a two-man booth, but for me, I love the process of preparing for games as much as doing the games themselves. That’s not going to change. I think being able to be in a booth without having a player next to me the last couple years will prepare me for this year when I’ll have Harold next to me.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this role?
Verducci: I just want the viewer to have a very informative and entertaining listen. I want them to feel like they’ve pulled up a chair right next to us. I hope to bring to the telecast what I call “buddy information” -- where you hear something and maybe the next day you say to your buddy, “Hey, I heard something about this player or this team,” and they pass it on by word of mouth.
Q: How opinionated do you plan on being on issues within the game?
Verducci: I don’t think there are boundaries here. When there are instances where it’s called for, I’m not afraid to give my opinion on a player making a mistake or when a manager -- where I think he should have tried something he didn’t. I don’t think there is anything that’s off limits.
Q: Will your role at SI/MLB Network change at all?
Verducci: I don’t think they’re going to change all that much. I’ll still be at SI and still will be appearing on MLB Network. Last year, I did do 18 games on Fox on Saturdays and my schedule this year will be about the same in terms of the workload. So in terms of that -- I don’t anticipate it’s going to change that much.
Q: How will the implementation of instant replay change the way you call a game?
Verducci: No one is really certain how it’s going to play out. I love the fact that we have replay, but I also understand it’s our first year and we’re not going to have a perfect system on Opening Day. It is a work in progress and I think we’ll all have to deal with the little glitches that are bound to crop up. But in general, I like it because besides getting the call right, I think it really introduces another element of drama and strategy to a baseball game.
Q: Will the game lose any baseball purists as fans because of replay implementation?
Verducci: If you like your managers like Earl Weaver and Billy Martin kicking dirt and throwing hats, I’m afraid that may become a lost art. … That has been a colorful part of the game that I think people will miss. As long as we don’t have robots behind the plate calling balls and strikes, I think the purists are going to be ok with it.
Q: What can MLB do to increase interest in baseball among America’s youth?
Verducci: One of the keys for baseball is the ballpark experience. It’s still the best place to bring a family, and I think baseball has to hammer that home. When the weather is nice, you can get out to the park for a reasonable price with your whole family. There are a lot of things to do at a ballpark other than just watch a game.
The Angels’ 48-year-old ballpark has a fresh look this season tied to food upgrades implemented by their new concessionaire. Legends Hospitality has invested several million dollars to improve general concessions and premium dining at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Renovations include the Halo Club, a new all-inclusive space that used to hold the team’s writing press. Legends takes over an account held by Aramark for the past several years. For Legends, it is a big one considering it is the first MLB deal the company has signed outside of Yankee Stadium, home base for a firm co-owned by the Yankees. The Halo Club, one of several upgrades spearheaded by Legends in conjunction with the Angels, sits directly above the Diamond Club. It spans 4,680 square feet and has three tiers of outdoor seats tied to an all-inclusive season ticket. There are 83 total seats, extending to barstools in the last row. The Angels are selling 10-game ticket packages priced at $125-225 a game per person, depending on location. Food and soft drinks are included in the ticket price. Alcohol is a separate fee. The interior space, designed by RipBang Studios, can best be described as industrial chic with its brick walls and imperfections in the stained concrete floor, said Legends President Dan Smith. The seats themselves provide the best view of the park, Legends On-Site GM David Lippman said. To prepare for the retrofit, the Angels last season relocated the writing press to a space down the right-field line after removing two suites in that area, he said. The Diamond Club, serving 1,300 seats, has been remodeled for the first time since Disney Sports owned the team before selling it to Arte Moreno in '03. Legends, in tandem with RipBang, repainted the space and installed new lighting that considerably brightens the space, Lippman said. In addition, Legends updated the furniture and replaced the old 30-inch televisions with 60-inch flatscreens.
CHANGES TO GENERAL CONCESSIONS: For general concessions, Legends converted a half-dozen old food stands into new concepts and introduced some new items to the mix this season, including short rib grilled cheese sandwiches, Carne asada waffle fries and a new Broken Bat beer stand in the upper deck. A smoker featured in the old Clyde Wright BBQ stand in right field has been moved to Gate 1 at field level, one of the park’s busiest entry points, Lippman said. Legends has branded its barbecue as Smoke Ring BBQ, offering ribs, chicken, beef brisket and sausage links. This season, the vendor also introduces Open Table, a popular mobile application consumers use to make dinner reservations at restaurants. Angels season-ticket holders can download the application on their smartphones to make reservations for the Diamond Club behind home plate, as well as the Knothole Club, a separate eatery on the club level by the right-field foul pole. The Knothole Club is open to all ticket holders after the first pitch, Lippman said.
In Oakland, Jimmy Durkin reported the sewage problems that "have become an issue" at O.co Coliseum returned prior to Saturday's scheduled Giants-A's exhibition game. A's coach Mike Gallego "captured video of water backing up in the showers and toilets in the coaches' area" of the team's clubhouse. The game was eventually rained out (INSIDEBAYAREA.com, 3/29). In S.F., Scott Ostler noted repairs at the ballpark are the responsibility of the city of Oakland and Alameda County, but there is "nothing stopping" A's co-Owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff from "throwing a little cash at the problem, to protect their coaches and players from sewage and themselves from ridicule" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/30).
LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE: In Tampa, Curtis Krueger noted Tropicana Field "now has a 360-degree walkway surrounding the lower seating area, giving fans plenty of access around the stadium, and new places to stand and watch the game." The walkway runs "smack into what used to be an enclosed restaurant called the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse." The former restaurant now is an "open-air area called the Porch in Centerfield, a 'fan-friendly gathering spot.'" There is "no roof overhead, but there will be netting to prevent fans from getting beaned by home runs" (TAMPABAY.com, 3/28).
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In Denver, Woody Paige wrote the "most impressive offseason addition" to Coors Field is the "new, grand rooftop deck above right field." Rockies Owner Dick Monfort said that "no money from players' salaries was spent in construction." The deck "fits perfectly, as if it has been a gleaming section of the ballpark, and LoDo, since inception." The area figures to become a "primary party place" (DENVER POST, 3/30).
EXPECT DELAYS: In Detroit, Michael Martinez noted Comerica Park has installed "walk-through metal detectors at all entrances" as part of an MLB-wide "mandate to have metal detectors in every ballpark" by '15. Clubs could "choose to have walk-through detectors or hand-held wands." Tigers VP/Ballpark Operations Mike Healy expects that the new security measure "will mean a five- to seven-minute delay getting inside the ballpark." As a result, gates are "opening two hours prior to the first pitch; they previously opened an hour and a half before game-time" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/29).
With the MLB regular season under way, THE DAILY presents a comprehensive list of the official MLB corporate partners for the '14 season. (THE DAILY).
SPONSOR CATEGORY RIGHTSSPONSOR SINCE Procter & Gamble
(Gillette/Head & Shoulders)
Gillette (men's & women's razors/blades, pre-/post-shaving);
Anheuser-Busch Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Malt Beverages1980 MasterCard Credit Card/Payment System1997 PepsiCo
Isotonic beverage, sports & energy drinks/
Non-alcoholic, non-milk based beverage/Salty Snack1990/1997/2006
Nike Athletic Footwear & Athletic Eyewear1998 Bank of America Banking Services/Affinity Card2004 (1997 for
MBNA affinity card)
Taco Bell (All-Star Legends &
Celebrity Softball Game)
QSR and Casual Dining2004 SiriusXM (All-Star Futures Game) Satellite Radio Network2005 GM/Chevrolet Foreign & Domestic Vehicle2005 Bayer Healthcare
Multivitamin/Pain Relief/Cold & Cough, Allergy, Heartburn2008/2011/2013 Firestone Tire2010 Scotts Lawn Care, Grass Seed2010 T-Mobile Wireless service, hardware, tablets2013 Kellogg's Cereal, cookies, crackers and wholesome snacks2013 Church & Dwight
(Arm & Hammer/OxiClean)
Laundry detergent, fabric care, pet care, baking soda, super washing soda,
dish cleaning products, home odor & air fresheners, nasal care, oral care2014
Target Mass retailer2014