Baseball scales back movie promotion

Updated: May 7, 2004, 7:15 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

Spider-Man will not appear on the base paths after all.

One day after hearing the public and media outcry following the announcement of the alliance between the league and Columbia Pictures in conjunction with the summer release of "Spider-Man 2," Major League Baseball officials and Columbia Pictures executives decided to scale back the promotion.

"It isn't worth, frankly, having a debate about," commissioner Bud Selig told The Associated Press in Oakland before the Yankees-Athletics game.

"I'm a traditionalist," he said. "The problem in sports marketing, particularly in baseball, is you're always walking a very sensitive line. Nobody loves tradition and history as much as I do."

The original plan, as announced on Wednesday, was to have a 6-by-6 inch "Spider-Man 2" logo on first, second and third base during interleague games played June 11 to 13. But, on Thursday evening, the two parties jointly announced that the logoed infield bases would no longer be a part of the deal.

"We saw some of the polls on the Internet that said that 71 and 81 percent of the fans didn't approve of it," Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for the Columbia-Tri-Star Motion Picture Group, told ESPN.com. "Based on this reaction from the fans, we didn't want to do anything to take away from their enjoyment of the game and if that was the case with this element of the promotion, we could afford to do without it."

SportsNation Speaks
Just how bad was the reaction from fans?

"Incredibly chintzy and tasteless. The game deserves better."
Andy Bertolino
Falls Church, Va.


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  • In an ESPN.com SportsNation poll of almost 45,000 readers, 79.4 percent said they thought that baseball was "selling out" by allowing the "Spider-Man 2" advertisements on the field.

    "The bases were an extremely small part of this program; however, we understand that a segment of our fans were uncomfortable with this particular component and we do not want to detract from this promotion in any way," said Bob DuPuy, president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball, in a statement.

    Former commissioner Peter Ueberroth told The Associated Press that baseball did the right thing.

    "I think they made a good decision to change their minds," he said. "I don't think it makes any sense at all. It's a clutter.''

    After the release of news of the deal, critics pointed to advertising on the bases as a sign that everything was now for sale.

    Fay Vincent, who is not only a former baseball commissioner but also a former president of Columbia pictures, called the move "sad."

    One man even started an online petition to oppose the "Spider-Man 2" logos on the bases "as well as all other 'in field of play' advertisements." As of 7 p.m. Thursday, more than 250 people had signed it.

    The Yankees, who would receive more money than other teams for running the promotion because of playing in a large market, insisted that they would remove the logoed bases after batting practice and not use them in the one game that they had committed to in participating in the promotion.

    U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, a Washington Republican and former minor league owner, reportedly sent a letter to Selig chastising the new use of space for advertising.

    "Little Leaguers deserve to see their heroes slide into bases, not ads," wrote Nethercutt, according to The Associated Press.

    He applauded Thursday's reversal.

    "I'm glad Major League Baseball is abandoning its plans to put ads on the field this summer," he said. "You don't need Spider-sense to know that bases aren't billboards.

    "As commissioner Selig discovered, we baseball fans will put up a fierce fight to protect our national pastime. Thanks to the support of fans today, America's pastime will remain pure tomorrow."

    Other parts of the promotion will be unchanged. Movie trailers will be featured on stadium scoreboards, the logos will be placed in the on-deck circles, and fans attending the games will receive "Spider-Man 2" foam fingers and masks. Movie branding will also appear on a ceremonial pitching rubber and home plate -- both of which will be replaced with the standard white variety once play begins.

    Executives at Columbia Pictures could have already made their money back in publicity. Sources told ESPN.com that the deal was worth approximately $2.5 million and Eric Wright of sponsorship evaluation firm Joyce Julius & Associates told ESPN.com that Spider-Man II received between $1.8 million and $2.4 million in equivalent advertising time in the first 24 hours after the announcement.

    Said DuPuy: "We are pleased to be moving ahead with all other elements of this ground-breaking marketing partnership and will continue to pursue new and innovative ways to market the game and engage baseball fans around the globe."

    Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

    Darren Rovell | email

    ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

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