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July 12, 2013

Overthinking It

On-Field Ads and Baseball: A Better Way

by Ben Lindbergh

As Business Insider noted earlier this week, Sportsnet’s Blue Jays broadcasts have begun to feature a few more digitally inserted advertisements. The concept isn’t new—we’re used to seeing ads like these projected on the backstop behind home plate—but Sportsnet has taken things a bit further, superimposing images on the field in foul territory

and also on the batter’s eye:

Depending on your attitude about the way capitalism works, this is either a logical, mostly harmless extension of a practice we already see, or a sign of the end times and a further departure from an idyllic ad-free experience that never actually existed. (If you belong to the latter group, you should stay away from soccer.) I’m not going to waste time worrying about whether superimposed ads make watching baseball better or worse—given how valuable product placement in relatively DVR-proof programs is to advertisers, we’re more likely to see players start wearing sandwich boards than we are to see on-field ads eliminated. But it pains me to see things done poorly, and I don’t think Sportsnet and its sponsors are getting the best bang for their advertising buck. So gather ’round, advertisers of America. I’ve seen all six seasons of Mad Men, and I have some advice to offer.

The problem is that there’s currently no connection between the ad and the player in closest proximity. If I’m a Blue Jays fan, the sight of Maicer Izturis doesn’t make me think about fruit smoothies or affordable, fuel-efficient cars. It just makes me wish my team had a better third baseman. What we’re after is the sort of synergy between ad and player that makes the message more memorable. So here are some suggestions for ad placement that would make more sense. (Click to expand any image.)

Timex: Astros, foul territory inside the batter’s circle


Carlos Pena has led qualified batters in time between pitches in each of the past six seasons, taking an average of 27.7 seconds to settle in from one offering to the next. Over that span, there’s been a bigger gap between Pena and the next-slowest (Manny Ramirez) batter than there has been between Ramirez and the two guys tied for 17th. In part, that’s because Pena often hits with two strikes and runners on, which tends to lengthen the time between pitches, but it’s also because of his deliberate routine. As he calls time and steps out over and over, you’ll find yourself glancing down at your wrist to see how long this game has been going on. When you do, you might realize that you’re not wearing a watch. So how will you tell how much time this is taking? The answer is on the screen.

Pena calls for Timex.

Allstate: Phillies, foul territory by first base


Ruben Amaro might still be holding out hope for Ryan Howard, but we know the truth: his contract can’t be salvaged. When we look at Howard, we think about all the major investments we’ve made that could take a turn for the worse. Don’t make the same mistake Amaro did. Get catastrophe insurance from Allstate, and finish above .500 in life.

Life Alert: Diamondbacks, foul territory by third base


If Eric Chavez has fallen, there’s a very real chance that he can’t get up. Baseball has an aging audience, and Chavez’ brittle body reminds spectators of their own increasing fragility. If Chavez is injured and immobile, a trainer can come and cart him off the field, but your average viewer can’t count on the same treatment. After watching Chavez for a few innings, a wristband that summons help in the event of emergency starts to seem like a sound investment.

Trojan: Marlins, between batter’s box and on-deck circle


If it were up to Giancarlo Stanton, he’d always practice safe plate appearance. But with the Marlins’ lineup lagging behind the rest of the league, Jeffrey Loria has left him little choice but to approach the plate without protection. The message is clear: make sure you always carry a condom, because you don’t want Greg Dobbs batting behind you in bed.

ADT: Red Sox, batter’s eye


A few seasons after setting a Red Sox record by stealing 70 bases, Jacoby Ellsbury is up to his old tricks, leading the majors with 36 swipes against only three caught stealings. Watching Ellsbury slip through his opponents’ defenses might make you wonder whether your home or small business is protected from theft. ADT can help.

Red Bull: Blue Jays, foul territory behind home plate


You’ve always wondered why Red Bull tastes so bad but makes you feel so much more energetic. Now you know: Red Bull is made from the bottled blood of Brett Lawrie.

Dr. Scholl’s: Angels, first base line


Even if you’re a couch potato, you’ll feel the empathic pain of plantar fasciitis as you watch Pujols plod down to first. Sadly, you’re not signed to a guaranteed contract, so it’s even more important that you be at your best. Let Dr. Scholl’s fit you for the same custom orthotics that the pros wear!

Victorinox: Rays, right field foul territory


Baseball’s Swiss Army knife meets the Swiss Army’s Swiss Army knife. Ben Zobrist gives Joe Maddon the perfect player for every position, making him the envy of other managers. Victorinox puts the same sort of multi-purpose power in your pocket.

The Walking Dead: Rockies, foul territory inside batter’s box


At age 39, Todd Helton has lost most of his skills, and he doesn’t have much life left. But he can walk, so he’s still sort of a threat, especially when he moves in packs and his targets are distracted by wooden dialogue. His season ends in October, when The Walking Dead’s starts.

Breaking Bad: Rangers, foul territory inside batter’s box


Nelson Cruz crushes fastballs, but over the past three seasons, he’s hit .210 against curveballs and .212 versus sliders. Fast: good. Breaking: bad. Tune in August 11th!

Baseball could be big for AMC.

U-Haul: Tigers, between the mound and the home dugout


Octavio Dotel has played for a record 13 teams and switched uniforms in mid-season trades five times, so he’s always ready to relocate. Are you? Dotel is 39 and hasn’t pitched since April due to lingering elbow discomfort, so his moving days might be done, but you never know when you’ll have to pick up stakes. Who knows more about moving than Dotel? Maybe the company that’s been moving America since the summer of 1945.

Craftsman: Angels, left field foul territory


Mike Trout is one of the game’s toolsiest players, making Craftsman his company equivalent. Next time you see him make a sliding catch, you’ll finally stop putting off that power tool purchase. Craftsman: for when four tools aren’t enough.

EvoShield: Padres, foul territory inside the batter’s circle


Carlos Quentin doesn’t wear an elbow guard, which is strange, because no one needs an elbow guard more. The hit by pitch pain reflected on his face is the best possible ad for EvoShield. If he charges the mound and breaks someone's bones, even better.

Axe: Indians, between first base and first base coach’s box


While preparing this article, I asked four people, “What’s a product that bros buy?” To a man, they all said “Axe.” And who better to associate with the only body spray clinically proven to make women want you and men want to hug it out with you than the player who brought us Brohio?

Hey Nick Swisher, do you own any Axe?

Thanks to Photoshop ninja Josh Frank for image alteration assistance.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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