Amid Criticism, Baseball Drops Plans for Ads on Bases
By Steve Fainaru And Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 7, 2004; Page A01
OAKLAND, Calif., May 6 -- Faced with a public outcry, angry threats from Congress and even criticism from some of its owners, Major League Baseball announced late Thursday that it was retreating from plans to place logos for the new movie "Spider-Man 2" on the bases during games next month.
The announcement, made jointly with Columbia Pictures, the movie's distributor, came after a second day of criticism over what many perceived as the sport's crass commercialization of the playing field. Baseball intended to place the webbed Spider-Man logo on the bases, home plate, the pitcher's mound and the on-deck circle in exchange for a reported $3.6 million.
Commissioner Bud Selig said Major League Baseball decided to alter the promotion "once we saw that there was some controversy that, frankly, wasn't good for either party. We have enough other things to worry about. It wasn't worth it."
Selig said Major League Baseball intended to move forward with other elements of what the league, in a statement, called "a groundbreaking marketing partnership." The promotion is scheduled to appear in ballparks the weekend of June 11-13 to coincide with the release of the film.
"We're not scrapping the promotion," said Selig, who was in Oakland to lobby for a new ballpark for the Oakland Athletics. "We're not scrapping the idea of younger demographics and going after them."
Selig said baseball would not receive less money even though Sony, Inc., Columbia TriStar Pictures' owner, "really wanted" the bases included in the promotion. "As stated when this partnership was announced, we think this is a terrific promotion for Major League Baseball and Columbia Pictures and a great opportunity to reach out to children and families," Robert DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.
"The bases were an extremely small part of this program; however, we understand that a segment of our fans was uncomfortable with this particular component and we do not want to detract from the fan's experience in any way."
DuPuy said the league intended to move forward with all other elements of the marketing partnership. Carmine Tiso, a Major League Baseball spokesman, said the red and yellow "Spider-Man 2" logos would not be on any of the bases. But he said the logos will remain on the on-deck circle throughout the game and on home plate and the pitching rubber for pregame ceremonies. Ads will also appear elsewhere in the ballparks, and the league will go ahead with plans to show movie highlights on stadium video boards, he said.
Baseball has previously put logos on its bases and on the on-deck circle during the game to commemorate holidays, great players and special events. But the "Spider-Man 2" promotion was the first time the league has proposed branding the bases during the game as part of a corporate sponsorship deal. The league has sold sponsorship rights for the on-deck circle for its annual Home Run Derby and All-Star Sunday events, Tiso said.
Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for the Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, said baseball and the film's producers had responded to fan sentiment.
"We listened to the fans," Ammer said in a statement issued by Major League Baseball. "We never saw this coming, the reaction the fans had. It became a flashpoint -- the reaction was overwhelming.
"We don't want to do anything that takes away from a fan's enjoyment of the game. Some people thought it was a great idea, but others saw it as sacrilegious."
Earlier in the day, fans, politicians and team owners joined the outcry over baseball's decision, with many lamenting that sports had stooped to a new low in commercialization.
"Little Leaguers deserve to see their heroes slide into bases, not ads," said Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), a former owner of a minor league baseball team, in a letter to Selig.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company