Baseball fans score victory over Spider-Man's reach

League drops plans to put movie logos on bases

May 07, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

Caught in an ever-tightening web of fan-fueled outrage, Major League Baseball backed down last night, saying it would not put logos on the bases as part of its $3.6 million promotional deal with the maker of Spider-Man 2.

The ads were to appear as part of a deal between Major League Baseball and Marvel Studios and Sony Inc., the parent of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing Spider-Man 2 on June 30. Under the deal, the logos were to appear on bases and the pitching rubber - but not home plate - during games from June 11-13.

Other parts of the promotion still planned include ads on the signage, giveaways and movie trailers on video boards. Ads on the on-deck circles will be at teams' discretion. It was not clear whether Marvel and Sony would pay less.

"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," Bob DuPuy, President and Chief Operating Officer of Major League Baseball, said in a statement released last night.

After it was announced Wednesday, the deal was denounced by fan groups as another example of the growing commercialization of sports.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a Portland, Ore.-based organization that says its mission is to "keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere," said last night he thought Major League Baseball would reverse course.

"But I didn't think it would happen so quickly," he said.

Earlier in the day, Ruskin had cited a Yankelovich poll conducted last month that showed more than 60 percent of Americans feel that advertising and marketing is out of control.

"There is a broad-based revulsion about the intrusion of the advertising and marketing in every corner of our lives, and that includes sports," said Ruskin, whose group was calling for baseball fans to boycott Sony products.

Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, said his group approached baseball about pulling the bases promotion.

"We never saw this coming, the reaction the fans had," said Ammer. "Some people thought it was a great idea, but others saw it as sacrilegious."

During the original negotiations, Sony pushed hard for the bases to be included in the promotion.

"There were many components, but it's one that Sony really wanted," said Jacqueline Parkes, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of marketing and advertising.

Shawn McCarthy, director of the Washington-based League of Fans, which was founded in 2001 by Ralph Nader, said he thinks what really is angering fans is "ad creep."

"It's the idea that everything is for sale," he said. "Major League Baseball, along with other professional sports, has shifted and is increasingly shifting more from showcasing their skill in competition on the field to just creating another forum to sell more things."

Even Ryan Schinman, president of Platinum Rye Entertainment, a New York company that hires athletes to represent corporations, said he didn't like what Major League Baseball was planning for Spider-Man 2.

"I don't mind the rotating signs, the virtual imagery, the stuff at the ballpark," he said. "But, to me, it goes a little far when you're messing with the bases.

"But when baseball allows something like that, you're just opening up Pandora's box, not only for baseball, but for the other sports. Enough is enough already."

The New York Yankees evidently agreed. And so did a number of other clubs.

Lonn Trost, chief operating officer of the Yankees, told Newsday: "This is a baseball promotion, and we're going to attempt to participate. But we may not. It depends. We're not doing rubbers, we're not doing home plate, we're not having people climb on screens."

The Chicago White Sox and Oakland A's were both reported yesterday to be undecided on whether the movie logo would have adorned the bases during their games.

The promotion is to take place during interleague play, when American League and National League teams play one another. The Orioles are scheduled to meet the San Francisco Giants in three games at Camden Yards.

Orioles managing partner Peter G. Angelos could not be reached for comment, but one member of his ownership group was excited yesterday afternoon about the promotion.

Shortly after he bought a minority interest in the Orioles, Steve Geppi told fans that they shouldn't be surprised to see a few superheroes crawling around Camden Yards.

"Maybe we'll have Spider-Man throw out the first ball ... " Geppi, owner of Diamond Comic Distributors, said in an August 1993 interview.

Geppi said yesterday he had "a little mixed emotion" when he first heard about the deal a couple of days ago, but after thinking about it, "it's pretty cool."

"You never learn anything if you don't try anything," he said. "I guess that's my entrepreneurial mentality."

Geppi said he realizes that some will question his objectivity because of affiliation with both the Orioles and Spider-Man. But he said he's trying to put himself in the position of a fan.

"I'm also a realist, and I know that anything that's lasted 100 and some years has got to on some level transform a little bit in order to keep up with the times," he said. "You don't want to become totally dated."

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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