- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

Baseball again has labor peace, but the sport's Cold War has done its damage. Attendance is off from coast to coast, fan interest is down by many other measures, and the NFL has begun anew, quickly taking back its position of global sports dominance.
As debate continues on the potential effects of the pending changes to baseball's economic system, everyone in the game agrees on one thing: Baseball must do far more to promote itself and stop trashing its own product.
Major League Baseball last week made a significant step in that direction, rolling out its latest advertising campaign, entitled "Wear the Ring." The multi-million dollar effort picks up where MLB's "Dynamic Superhumans" ads left off in early July, when stars such as Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Barry Bonds were shown as animated heroes performing larger-than-life physical feats. This time, however, the focus is geared to the upcoming postseason and quest for autumn immortality.
The effort is clearly a mea culpa of sorts for MLB, without making a direct apology to fans. Commissioner Bud Selig addressed that partly in an open letter to fans two weeks ago, acknowledging the tense, often bitter 10 months of labor talks "tried the patience of players, clubs, and you, our fans." But the formula for the ads is tried-and-true: showcase the stars, include lots of energy and quick cuts, and focus squarely on the on-field competition.
Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business, said the new ads were not specifically designed in response to the labor strife and the strike that was barely averted. But he acknowledged the ads' potential usefulness in shifting fan attention back on the field.
"These ads are running in exactly the same format and tone and tenor they were originally planned in," Brosnan said. "Fortunately, we get to keep these right on schedule [with labor peace secured]. And the plan is certainly for them to be very useful [in improving fan interest]."
The new spots, running primarily on Fox and ESPN, also thankfully turn down the over-the-top, cartoonish nature of the original Dynamic Superhumans ads considerably. In the first batch of ads, players even as spindly as Pedro Martinez were drawn with enormous, rippling muscles, just weeks after damaging allegations of steroid use by Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti. The new ads, also featuring Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols, are drawn much more to scale while keeping within the same style of animation
MLB's ad push is targeted directly at the 18-34 age group, a key demographic with baseball's TV partners and corporate sponsors. As a result, other placements for the new spots include the youth-friendly "Mad TV" on Fox, and during college and pro football broadcasts. No similar ad effort is currently under way for any other age group, but Brosnan said they will be sought out in other forms of marketing, such as grassroots efforts and companion TV promos developed by Fox, ESPN and ABC Family.
No targeted, quantified goal has been attached to MLB's new ads. But a healthy increase in postseason TV ratings would go a long way to putting a more positive coda on an extremely strange and turbulent year for baseball. Fox regular-season ratings already are on track to close 2002 as the best in the network's seven years covering baseball. But an increase over last year's World Series marks, the best since 1997, remains a significant hurdle without a repeat of last year's seven-game classic.
"This isn't about specifically getting 'X' number of new people," Brosnan said. "This about getting more people aged 18-34, sitting on the fence with regard to baseball, more engaged in our postseason. That's our target, and we have strong hopes. This effort has been well-received so far, and we think it could have legs."

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