It’s like meeting a longtime friend for a relaxing coffee chat only to get barraged by a multi-level marketing sales pitch
By Ken Reed
SPORTS – OPINION – I can still see my dad, lying on his nursing home bed, listening to a baseball broadcast on his transistor radio.
The broadcasters were his daily companions as he dealt with a challenging and scary health issue. In a sense, they were actually his friends; people he could count on to take his mind off his predicament and transport him to the ballpark.
Good baseball radio broadcasters do more than report what’s happening on the field. They carry on a light conversation with listeners. A relationship is built.
My dad certainly wasn’t alone in his love of baseball on the radio. Millions of baseball fans find comfort, companionship, and a sense of normalcy every spring, summer, and fall by listening to radio broadcasts of the local baseball team.
One high school summer, I worked at a drug store and my primary responsibility was to deliver pharmaceuticals to nearby nursing homes. As I delivered my packages to the nursing stations, I could hear the familiar cadence of broadcasters calling that day’s baseball game emanating from the rooms of residents.
Of course, baseball on the radio is not just a nursing home phenomenon. Baseball radio broadcasts can be heard on backyard decks and patios, in parks and at campsites. Fans listen to radio broadcasts while working or driving around town doing errands. Others use earphones and listen to the games while watching their kids play in youth baseball, softball and soccer games.
Some people – myself included – love listening to baseball games while mowing the lawn or doing other yard work. The familiar voices that make up the ‘soundtrack of summer’ can help distract one from work that’s often drudgery.
In a lot of ways, baseball radio broadcasters are servants doing a community service by making the day-to-day lives of listeners easier and/or better.
All that said, I’m deeply disturbed by a trend in baseball radio broadcasting that’s getting out of hand and moving beyond simply being annoying. I speak of the practice known in the industry as drop-in ads. These in-game sponsorships have proliferated over the past decade.
As an example, during a May 31, 2017, New York Yankees radio network broadcast of a Yankees versus Baltimore Orioles game, there were 82 drop-in ads, according to research done for consumer advocate Ralph Nader. On July 4, 2013, the New York Times found “more than 60” drop-in ads during a Yankees radio network broadcast of a Yankees-Minnesota Twins game. Of course, these numbers don’t include the scores of ads during half-inning breaks.
Nobody begrudges a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, or their radio partner, from making money off a radio broadcast. But the excessive use of drop-in ads by the Yankees – and other MLB teams – make a mockery of the art that is broadcasting baseball games via radio.
When it comes to baseball radio broadcasts today, everythingseems to be for sale. Consider these examples from the May 31, 2017, Yankees broadcast:
- “The game-time temperature is brought to you by Brothers Supply, your number one source for ice air PTACs, water source heat pumps and fan coils.”
- “The national anthem salute to America is brought to you by Mutual of America.”
- “The starting battery is brought to you by Interstate Battery Distributors of New York and Connecticut. Every battery for every need.”
- “The first walk of the game is brought to you by Intel Power 2 in 1, flexible as you are.”
- “The call to the bullpen is brought to you by Geico, 15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance.”
- “The defensive alignment is brought to you by Black Bear Forest Fresh deli meats, franks, and cheeses, only at ShopRite.”
- “Scoreboard update is brought to you by Mercedes-Benz Tri-State dealer.”
- “Today’s game attendance brought to you by Columbia Bank, serving New Jersey for 90 years.”
This over-commercialization takes place incessantly. While the Yankees and their radio partners might be the worst offenders, teams across the American and National Leagues do similar things.
The bottom line is that listening to baseball radio broadcasts today isn’t as enjoyable or comforting as it used to be. It’s more like meeting a longtime friend for a relaxing coffee chat only to get barraged by a sales pitch for the latest multi-level marketing scheme.
Baseball on the radio used to be one of life’s simple pleasures. No longer. Revenue-at-all-costs seems to be valued more by MLB franchises than integrity and quality game broadcasts.
The best companies in the world know that some things are more important than making another buck. But for the Yankees and other teams, when it comes to their radio broadcasts, greed rules the day.
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of Ego vs. Soul in Sportsand How We Can Save Sports.
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