Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Year 102, but what's 101 between friends?

Spend some time in Chicago this week and you'll undoubtedly see a cab speed by with the new slogan for the Chicago Cubs. Apparently, truth in advertising doesn't penetrate baseball's antitrust exemption ("Give us all your cash, quickly and quietly." or "Wrigley Field; Two drink minimum.") as they've decided to launch with "Year One."


No. No. No.

I can't explain exactly how infuriating this slogan is to the fan base. It's not year one, it's year one hundred-plus. Just because the Ricketts family chooses to start the calendar anew, doesn't make it the case.

Know what would have been a better slogan to rally the fan base and get folks excited for the regime change at Clark and Addison? "It won't be another 100 years, we promise."

For years now, the Cubs have had laps run around them by their brothers on the South Side. With the exception of the "signs" campaign, the radio ads for the Sox have been far and above the most entertaining ad campaign in years. (Let's all try to ignore the Baby Bulls rebuilding plans and the puzzling "One Goal" commercials run by the suddenly resurrected Blackhawks.) If I had a phone capable of more than basic solitaire and text messaging, I'd have Ozzie Guillen cursing out a child over lima beans as my ringtone. It's just that good.

So, rather than jump into the pool with the Sox (or the A's, Twins or Mariners), the Cubs continue to play on their tradition and their ballpark and this new foray into "Year One." While I understand that the ad is supposed to indicate that the reins have been handed over to a new ownership group and it's set to mark the break between the Tribune company, this just seems misguided to me.

You can't keep a foot in both worlds, expecting fans to flock to Wrigley (now with acceptable women's restrooms!) as a cathedral of baseball, while signifying a clean break with the past. As a fan, I was looking for something more substantial than this and think it's dismissive and off target. I would have been happier with some sort of joking admission of past mistakes as the kickoff campaign, but this just rubs me the wrong way.

With the bar set high following the takeover in Boston that's yielded two championships and counting, Cub fans are understandably anxious to see if the change in ownership will mean the same thing in Chicago. While it's certainly apples to oranges on a handful of factors, Cub fans see themselves as the last holdouts of star-crossed franchises.

They've seen the Red Sox elevated from comrades in futility to fair weather fan bait on par with the Yankees, Duke University and the Dallas Cowboys. They've seen their truest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals win it all and watched as the Sox paraded through Chicago in 2005 with the World Series trophy. Suddenly, the waiting room is a lot less crowded, and the Pittsburgh Pirates keep staring creepily at them from the corner.

So, from where I stand, Year One doesn't offer me much comfort. While I can sympathize that promising a championship in under a decade would be suicide in this town, I do expect more than a blind eye turned to a century of failure. Making things worse were the radio ads that ran leading into the season, where a breathless announcer reminds you of the great players and chilling moments in Chicago Cubs history. Everything is fine until the copy lets it slip that whoever wrote it wasn't really "sporty" when they remind us of the coaches (not managers) who have led the team in the past. While I'm sure there have been many fine coaches in the past, I'm not thinking of them when I remember confusing my third grade teacher when I spelled it "Freyday" on a spelling test after months spent in the summer with baseball cards as my reading material. Jim Frey cost me one point on that exam and he's never formally apologized.

The Ricketts family didn't need to fall at the feet of the fanbase, nor did they need to Joe Namath the hell out of the airwaves and guarantee multiple championships, but a nod to the past would have helped.

As I've written here before, the biggest plus I've seen in this situation was the change from a corporate ownership base to an actual owner to look to when the team breaks the bank and still pulls up miles short of the post season. It always felt like the Tribune company had other priorities in mind instead of putting an end to the title drought. While individual owners can be worse (looking at you, Peter Angelos), I'd personally rather take my chances with one person or family, instead of a group that can pull the team in different directions.

It's nothing short of heartbreaking to feel that not only was your team going to continue to lose, but the owners didn't seem to care as long as people kept making the pilgrimage to the ballpark, putting butts in the seats and keeping the profits healthy. I guess I hope that having actual people who will hear it from the fans will produce different results.

All winter long we're heard stories about how the Ricketts family is ready to lead this organization, how the matriarch was out with coffee in the cold when tickets went on sale for the season, how the new guys were out at the XRT Home Opener on Monday. I desperately want them to pursue a championship as passionately as anyone who has followed the team for decades.

I want them to get it. This ad campaign seems to indicate otherwise.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Blackouts - Driving us all crazy

With the start of the new season, I'm learning the ropes of the new setup as our cable provider doesn't offer the Extra Innings Package. I suspect it's because they're communists, but there is a very short list of things I'd rather do versus giving Comcast another cent, so here we are.

Among the downsides of streaming games to my laptop is the stuff you'd think of off the top of your head - worrying about video quality, occasional hiccups in the stream and waiting a few moments between games as it verifies my account and has to load.

So far, this hasn't been too bad - and certainly much better than it was a few seasons ago when MLB froze out cable providers, fans were forced to sign up for the online options and the whole system crackled briefly before small fires started in the basement of from overuse.

I like the idea that I can also watch games at work, you know on designated breaks and such, as I'd never watch several innings while on the clock. Well, I would like that idea if I wasn't being blacked out for having a credit card that is billed in the greater Chicagoland area. Given that the Cubs play a lot of day games, I won't be seeing any of those.

Given a token amount of research, I am even more entrenched in my beliefs that MLB is only hurting itself by enforcing its current set of blackout rules. Yes, I remember what happened last time. (I'd also like to send people over here for a really good outline of how this relates to the iPad and several links to stories about the repeal of these rules from 2006 and 2008).

While I stand behind the basics of what I've said before (mainly that online is a last-ditch option for most of us and should be available, especially during day games) I'm adding a few new wrinkles. Foremost among those points is that the people who care the most about MLB and specific teams are the ones hurt the most in this situation.

Even with the limited movement outlined this recent post, MLB is sticking to its guns on this point, which I still think is outdated and just as wrongheaded as Bill Wirtz's ruling to not show home games for the Chicago Blackhawks (but more on that later).

The highlights in MLB's rules say that on Saturdays, Fox decides what game you see, no matter what. Even if you had or Extra Innings, you got the Fox affiliate (usually a local team) but that remains frustrating and counterproductive. I know I'm not alone in wanting to channel surf between several games to keep an eye on guys on my fantasy team and generally enjoy watching different players in different parks. However, I can't do this on the best day for it - Saturday.

(I see this as the big issue here. If I'm a casual fan of the hometown team, I can't see those games on a weekday. If I'm a diehard fan of an out of market team, I can't see those games on Saturdays. It's losing ground on two fronts.)

The same goes for local games over the Internet when I'm at work. For those, you can't even listen to the local radio stations streamed online, as that would cut into MLB's bottom line as they offer that service for the low-low price of $100 to $120 per season.


I fully realize I'm the weird one here. And so are you, for finding this little blog. We watch more baseball than most people. We don't complain that there aren't enough homers. If you're really like me, you've corrupted your spouse to the point that she asks if Dodger games are in LA that night so we can listen to Vin Scully. We are the ones that have and will pay extra to watch games in Seattle or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, despite never having set foot in any of those cities.

And we are the ones who are constantly being screwed by the blackouts.

As Frank pointed out in the comments the last time I raised this subject, "WGN and other local broadcasters can have a separate Internet feed where they would be able to sell an additional advertising package for games that are streamed online. Indeed, this is how most broadcast radio stations operate their Internet streams. This way, the local TV broadcasters are able to monetize the games that are streamed online in their local markets (as opposed to simply risking losing "credit" for those viewers and the associated advertising dollars in the event that a person chooses to watch online instead of TV)."

Considering the name of the game is being paid for the eyeballs on any given show or sporting evening, this makes that job even easier as you can see exactly how many people are tuned in and charge accordingly. I know for a fact that providers can pinpoint the region you log in from as I am bombarded with banner ads for Chicago drivers on some sites, so we'll need a new excuse for holding this back.

I can't even imagine the number of viewers the Cubs would draw by releasing their video feed on the WGN page (same for the Yankees, Red Sox or Cardinals) and I'm honestly shocked that no one has made a push to allow this. At the very least, test run it with day games during the week, when people can't see games on TV. I bet it beats most other regular season games.

Back to the Wirtz case, the Blackhawks never showed home games when Bill Wirtz ran the team. He swore that by giving away the games, home attendance would suffer. Within what seemed like hours of his death, his son lifts the ban and as of today, Blackhawk hockey has literally never been more popular in Chicago in my lifetime. It helps that the team is really good, but there has been talk this season of Hawks games being the new, winter Wrigley.

The point is that the numbers didn't drop, people are crazy about the team and the brand has been given new life in a town that largely has left the sport for dead. I'm still in the majority of people in Chicago who couldn't care less, but the fans they do have are more engaged and excited as they prepare for their playoff run. It's no accident that this coincides with greater access to the team.

Apply this to baseball. Offer more games and for less money and see what happens to the MLB brand as owners swear their teams are losing money on a yearly basis. Short of that, offer games for the local teams for a reasonable price and see what happens. It's a long season, where I doubt very few people actually watch every inning of every game. Add in an extra 100-plus innings each year, streamed from the team site when most people are in an office and what could that possibly hurt? In either case, I bet that the brand expands beyond the demographic of hard core nuts like me that will fork over $100-plus to watch out of market games on a laptop.

At the very least, stop punishing fans for having full time jobs. Without those, we'll buy even less merchandise and tickets.

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