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Throwing The Game

Want to buy the seventh-inning stretch?
In the midst of baseball's playoffs, it occurred to me that with all the noise-both audio and visual-accompanying the in-stadium experience, fans face fewer distractions by watching on TV.

It's a sad state of affairs.

The lineup of distractions that baseball's marketing whizzes subject us to during nine innings is cacophonous: from foul-pole-to-foul-pole banner ads to deafening between-innings video entertainment.

My favorite: the already-old-school dot-racing phenomenon, in which legions of otherwise intelligent people rubberneck at awkward angles to root for a colored dot in a preprogrammed race.

It's no wonder the on-field action is almost inconsequential. How's one supposed to pack all of this, plus a baseball game, into three hours? The situation has worsened in this era of luxury-suite-filled stadiums.

Case in point: In 1999, their last season in 3Com Park, the San Francisco Giants generated only $3 million in in-stadium ad revenue (a spokeswoman was unsure whether that included the fee 3Com paid for the stadium's naming rights). A year later, that figure mushroomed to $23 million in marketing-friendly Pacific Bell Park. With so much invested, it's no wonder advertisers have become more aggressive about getting our attention.

It all adds up to an unhealthy dynamic summarized by a simple, but not obvious, concept: Conversation isn't a profit center. As long as we're talking, we're not contributing to the bottom line. With the adoption of that ideal has come the end of the baseball experience as we know it. No more listening to the organist play while watching players take infield between innings. No more debating the controversial call that ended a rally. No more connecting with fellow fans. Now it's just us, our eyeballs, and a never-ending stream of marketing ops and brain-dead entertainment.

Did someone say "play ball"? Sorry, I couldn't hear.