- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

Almost every pro athlete secretly wants to be a musician. And almost every male rock star secretly wishes he could play pro ball.

It’s under that framework Major League Baseball is seeking new fans in the coveted 16-to-24 age group with its surprising Road Show promotion.

MLB, the organization led by 69-year-old commissioner Bud Selig and championed by the middle-aged likes of George Will and Ken Burns, is spending the summer on tour with the heavy metal festival Ozzfest and the venerable alternative music festival Lollapalooza as a corporate sponsor.

At each tour stop, MLB sets up two trailers of baseball video games, batting and pitching cages and memorabilia.

Despite the secret desires of pro athletes and musicians to trade places, this marriage of hardball and hard rock is anything but expected.

The average MLB ticket buyer is 45 years old, and the mountain of books and videos continually produced to chronicle baseball’s lyrical and pastoral nature clash strongly with the rage and aggression at a typical heavy metal show.

But it’s precisely that kind of juxtaposition baseball wants first to exploit and then to diffuse through the Road Show promotion.

“We all need to get younger in our fan base. There’s absolutely no question about that. It’s an important thing for baseball,” said Steve Armus, vice president of MLB Properties. “We’re definitely after a cool factor or more to the point a greater awareness of the cool factor we feel we have. So what we’re doing is going out to this [demographic] on their terms and on their turf. We’re not asking them to go to games, but we are trying to lay some seeds. It’s kind of a guerrilla marketing campaign.”

Road Show actually started as a merchandise promotion, and that element remains central. The first step in developing affinity among younger fans, Armus and the rest of baseball’s marketers believe, is to get them wearing MLB jerseys and hats — preferably the high-end Authentic Collection of gear identical to what the players wear. And music tour sponsorship, like other marketing forms, has evolved beyond simple brand awareness to selling product wherever and whenever possible.

Among the performing bands, the MLB Road Show has been greeted warmly. Several of the acts have requested personalized baseball jerseys and taken preshow hacks in the batting cages.

“This is way better than having a Jagermeister or Bud Light as a sponsor for the tour,” said Mike Bordin, drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and a big San Francisco Giants fan. “I’m out there every day taking swings or throwing some pitches. I’ve even incorporated it into my preshow routine to loosen up my upper body.”

Baseball’s linkage to the likes of Osbourne has not been without its hiccups. The heavy metal veteran-turned TV star last weekend completely butchered a version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Osbourne hit only a handful of words from the song correctly and incoherently mumbled through the rest.

Bordin and others blamed the debacle on Cubs personnel not spending enough time teaching the English-born Osbourne the song. But no one connected to the incident was saved from embarrassment.

MLB’s Road Show does, however, extend Selig’s newfound spirit of openness in baseball’s marketing tactics. The PGA never would think of similarly aligning itself with avid golfer and shock rocker Alice Cooper. The NFL’s choices for musical linkage also are typically safe and sanitized, rarely straying beyond the likes of Bon Jovi or Aerosmith.

“This [Road Show] isn’t about just one type of music. It will change and embrace hip-hop and other tours,” Armus said. “This is about music in general and connecting with this demographic. That’s the great thing about the Road Show. It can change and adapt, and it will.”

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