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News: Sony Sense Fails on Baseball Stunt
posted May 6, 2004

May 6 -- Major League Baseball ended up wanting no part of Spider-Man on its playing field, succumbing to fan pressure and declaring to major media outlets they would not be following through with a planned promotion of the movie Spider-Man 2. Under the initial deal, which caused howls of dismay from baseball purists, the bases of major league parks would be adorned with a symbol promoting the expected summer box office hit. The clash between the consuming needs of modern marketing and old-timey sports culture values stayed below-the-fold front-page news and talk radio fodder from the time it was announced until a few days after the initiative was canceled. In many ways, the curious and brief on-field partnership was like an issue of Marvel Team-Up featuring Spider-Man and Joe Garagiola, an unlikely pairing that seemed even more so done in the name of reaching young consumers.

According to Major League Baseball, the sport was expecting to benefit perhaps more than the movie. Youngsters would ostensibly be attracted to the sport due to its brief alliance with the popular summer movie. Just the fact that the sequel to a movie that did repeat business with very young men and women would choose to advertise with baseball was considered noteworthy by the league's marketing and advertising group. A hit movie would provide the sport a much different kind of exposure than the usual bat giveaways and Jackie Robinson Day promotions, not to mention the cheery breast and prostate cancer awareness promotions with which baseball celebrated Mother's Day and Father's Day. Not surprisingly, the sport's operating body and the parent company of the movie (Sony) are both represented by the same advertiser: McCann Erickson. Baseball accepted the company's suggestion to work with the movie and left the degree of involvement up to the individual clubs. The Yankees, who along with the Red Sox would have received slightly more money to put the movie symbol on their famous park's bases, planned to use the advertising-heavy bases in practice only.

When The Wall Street Journal broke news of the marketing event and the story became national news, ardent sport fans howled and wondered out loud if the national pastime had sold its soul for an easy buck. Older park attendees were hardly calmed when league officials said that teams would make less than a reported $100,000 apiece and that what was going on was primarily a marketing effort -- meaning association with a popular name -- than a revenue generator. Although fans of the sport had come to accept a proliferation of advertising throughout stadiums and in broadcasts, many drew the line when it came to having ads on the playing surface itself. With the deal no longer on the table, the movie will have to console itself with the free publicity generated by the complaints and baseball now looks like an older gentleman who risked his marriage for the chance at a brief affair with a desirable younger woman.

A Spider-Man base will be added to the permanent collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.