A Midsummer's Night Scheme

You can no longer have just a game anymore. Nah, games ain't enough on their own.

People want events now. Actually, people need events. But we can't help it - our need is a conditioned reflex.

It wasn't always this way. Used to be that people just showed up, guys played the game, and then people went home.

See, way back when, the only thing necessary to make us sports hounds lick our chops was the game itself. Yes, the game was the meat powder, our unconditioned stimulus.

But broadcast networks eventually recognized that our drool was, for them, a large liquid asset. So, networks came up with an idea to capitalize on our fancy for meat powder - they put together pre-game shows.

To us cold-nosed fans, pre-game shows were a conditioned stimulus, indicating that the game-time feeding was imminent; yum-yum, salivation. To the networks, pre-game shows were a larvae form of sports marketing designed to make people tune-in earlier, longer. Which bolstered ratings. Which meant more money.

Corporations, always with an eye out for money and money-makers, soon bought in. It was subtle at first - a "pre-game report sponsored by company X" here, a "this game brought to you by company Y" there. Nobody seemed effected much.

Then in the late-80s, sports marketing sprouted wings. Instead of a bringing us a mere pre-game report, corporations brought us the entire pre-game show. And the post-game show too. And let's not forget half-time, the most prevalent of which may be the "Penzoil at the Half" show during NCAA hoop contests on CBS.

But soon, being before, during, and after the game just wasn't enough. No, marketers had to be in the game - like the Skyline Chili seventh inning stretch. Then they had to be around the game, like SAFECO Park. Then they had to just plain be the game, like the FedEx Orange Bowl.

And us dogs, unsuspectingly and over time, were suckered. Because we no longer needed games, meat powder, to make our mouths water. Nope, all we need nowadays are corporate gimmicks, the sports marketing bells and whistles.

Example. Once upon a time, a couple guys would fidget around the office on any given Tuesday, anxious to get out of work and down to the ballpark for one of 81 standard-issue home games. Now, the only way to get those same guys to even think about heading out for a Tuesday game is to have a Hooters' Batgirls night (and free pennants to the first 15,000).

Point. The games still count as much, but they don't matter as much anymore. That is, as long as there's a good event or two surrounding the game, we, as doggedly-conditioned sports fans, could care less if our meat powder is filet mignon or assorted rat poisons sautéed in A-1. And someday, we may not even need any game at all.

Pavlov'd be proud.

Blame sports marketing. But remember, sports marketing has done what marketing is supposed to do. It has sold a product. That's its job. And it's done it frequently and for increasingly higher dollar amounts.

But what's the real price?

Sports marketing is why Riverfront Stadium is now Cinergy Field. Sports marketing is what caused an 'incident' in 1992 when the Dream Teamers decided to cover up the Reebok emblem on their warm-up suits while on the Olympic medal stand and is how the Reebok emblem got on their suits in the first place. Sports marketing is when, upon pulling into the winner's circle, every victorious auto racer is compelled to put cases of three different beverages atop the car, to don one company's hat and wave another, and to jabber about how grateful he or she is for each one of his or her 26 other sponsors.

Does that kind of stuff make anyone gleeful? Does that kind of stuff make anyone proud?

No, and no. But to us, unfortunately, that kind of stuff is now as much a part of the sport as the hoop, the hash mark, and the homerun.

Because we need - need - the events, the door prizes, the bells and whistles to get a complete fix.

Take for instance this week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, played at the aforementioned SAFECO Field, home of the Seattle (and someday soon, the Starbucks Coffee) Mariners.

Formerly, the All-Star Game - yesteryear know as the Midsummer Classic, today as the Midsummer Night's (Marketing) Scheme - was the second most popular American sporting attraction next to the World Series. Now, the All-Star game struggles to be the second most popular attraction during All-Star Week. That's right, week. (Okay, it's really only six days, but still really ridiculous.)

Things got started on July 6 with the John Hancock (the company, not the signature) All-Star FanFest Opening Ceremony, which kicked off, naturally, the John Hancock All-Star FanFest, which lasted until July 10.

July 8 was Radio Shack All-Star Sunday. The first event that day was the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball game. Two hours later, there was an exhibition pitting American minor leaguers against the World Team minor leaguers in the All-Star Futures Game.

July 9 started off with the All-Star Fantasy camp at 7:30 a.m. (No sponsor because most men 18-35 aren't up that early.) Then at 2:30 p.m., the Claritin All-Star Workout Day commenced, and the day culminated with the Century 21 Homerun Derby at 5:00 p.m. - easily the most popular All-Star Week happening, including the game.

During the Tuesday, July 10 festivities, Fantasy Camp continued, followed by the Mascot Friendship Tour (again, no sponsor, because men 18-35 don't care about friendship tours) and the Toys 'R Us MLB Diamond Skills Champions.

And, oh yeah, and I think they played that game thing too last Tuesday. I'm pretty sure the AL won 4-1. But I don't know, because I really didn't watch it - I mean, Big Brother 2 was on. Plus, I already knew Luis Gonzalez won the Homerun Derby.

And, anyway, I had to get bed early for the completion of Fantasy Camp the next day.


Tao of Steve

At last Thursday's hard-rocking set at Riverbend (opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter), Steve Earle pledged to the crowd that he plans to "write more chick songs." He cited as his reasoning the fact that, as he grows older, his crowd is getting "hairier and uglier." He tends to stun the tamer folkies when he kicks off tunes with rousing bar language like, "ONE, TWO, #&$*%( YOU!!" Steve remains, at heart, a roadhouse rocker - but maybe this exposure to a wider crowd will expand his currently rabid, if hirsute, following. (Present company excepted, natch.) -RR

photo by: Michael Wilson

Deconstructing Homer Simpson

From time to time, the Oxford English Dictionary incorporates into its rigidly precise pages colloquial phrases aimed at defining commoner jargon for the erudite. Thanks to this recent tradition, men and women everywhere understand what we Americans mean when we say "cool," describing (or "depicting in words") a person's ability to remain calm and collected. Now, the British word-meisters have taken it a step further, incorporating the slang of one of our favorite cartoon giants - Mr. Homer Simpson.

From this American anti-hero's colorful vocabulary, the British word-mongers at the OED have divined the meaning of "doh!" Now, scores of young, school-age blokes can memorize the following definition of Homer's hallmark saying : "Doh – expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned or that one has just said or done something foolish."

Among other phrases added to this new edition of the OED are bad hair day, full monty, retail therapy and lifestyle drugs. Here's hoping that "super fly" somehow finds its way into the next edition. -Eric Newman

Worm guy

Everyone has a special talent. Some people can juggle knives, some people can peel a banana with their toes and some people can knit a sweater with the wool straight off of a lamb's back. And then there's those people who can eat 94 worms in 30 seconds. Or more accurately, one person.

Versailles native Mark Hogg will appear on Ripley's Believe It or Not! on Superstation TBS Wednesday, July 25th at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 28 at 10 a.m. to showcase his unique talent for ingesting creepy crawlies. Hogg is currently featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for his talent, making him the record holder for the most worms eaten. And the suckers weren't even fried.–LS