Marketing displaces sports’ traditions

Few things can evoke expressions of nostalgia and sentimentality like holidays, family milestones and trips to professional sporting events.

There was a time not that long ago when even a casual sports fan could recite the name of the home stadium, ballpark or arena for all or most of the teams in a specific league.

The task was made easier by the fact that the majority of venues shared an identity with the home team (Yankee Stadium), location (Boston Garden) or an individual associated with the team (Wrigley Field).

Stadium corporate naming rights have made that task significantly more challenging. For every Fenway Park, there is a Target Field, Minute Maid Park and Tropicana Field. Nineteen of the 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball have a corporate identity.

Today when fans recount an experience at a professional sporting event, they validate the marketing strategy of the corporate entity that bought the naming rights simply by mentioning the site of the game.

Twenty-five of the 32 NFL teams have secured naming rights for their stadium. Tell a family member, friend or colleague at work that you attended a football game at M&T Bank Stadium, State Farm Stadium, or Raymond James Stadium and you’ve offered a free advertisement, not unlike the license plate frame that was attached to your car by the dealer.

Scheduled doubleheaders in Major League Baseball have gone the way of pepper during batting practice. Neither can be missed by the youngest generation of fans who rarely experienced them.

When MLB teams take the field now for a pair of games on the same day, it’s more than likely a day-night doubleheader. The only executives who have more impact on the game than the marketers are the accountants.

Tradition can still be observed while change is embraced. Fewer fans are keeping a scorecard at professional baseball games, but the public relations departments continue to include them in printed programs.

Throwback uniforms and the NHL’s Heritage Classic and Winter Classic games are proof positive that an appreciation for the past attracts fans to the sport today.

As part of Cincinnati’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2019, the Reds will wear 15 throwback uniforms, sponsor six bobblehead giveaways, and open Great American Ball Park (there are those corporate naming rights again) for the Reds Rockin’ 150 Birthday Bash, complete with a free concert, fireworks, and appearances by former and current players.

In the 21st century, no commemoration of a historic milestone would be complete, of course, without the availability of social media artwork and wallpapers for your phone.

“Much has changed since 1869, yet baseball still helps to drive our economy and our tourism,” Reds’ owner Bob Castellini said. “It continues to raise our national and international profile. This is for our thousands of fans over eight generations.”

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates who were in high school when the ballclub last won a World Series are now eligible for membership in AARP.

The euphoria of a championship has eluded Bucs fans since that 1979 season, and yet a connection remains through on-field reunions, television documentaries, memorabilia and symbols displayed throughout PNC Park.

An organization’s past glory is a legacy inherited by every fan. Even when recent seasons have produced more trials than triumphs, fans remain ever hopeful that the current campaign, or the one that follows, or the one after that will deliver the next title.

That optimism was rewarded in St. Louis and Toronto this spring, as the Blues and Raptors won their first championship.

Disney recently learned a valuable lesson about tampering with nostalgia when a gift shop was incorporated into the theater of Disneyland’s Main Street Cinema, one of the original attractions from the park’s opening in 1955.

The outrage on social media was immediate. One post read, “There are plenty of stores already! This was such a quaint glimpse into times gone by.”

Another scolded, “Ridiculous and blind to your own heritage.”

It’s tempting to say that there will never be another Joe DiMaggio, Red Grange, Gordie Howe or Bill Russell, and that is true because each was uniquely transcendent.

However, legendary status can be bestowed faster than the swing of a bat, especially when a singular achievement is performed to dramatic effect on the sport’s largest stage.

A 14-foot, 2,000-pound statue near PNC Park’s right field grandstands depicts Bill Mazeroski’s jubilant gallop around the bases after his walkoff homer in game seven of the 1960 World Series.

“I learned that Bill Mazeroski is a man of few words, but that statue speaks volumes,” said Steve Blass, pitching hero of Pittsburgh’s 1971 World Series champions.

The statue is also a method of transportation — back to a time and place that many regard with both nostalgia and sentimentality.

Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona.

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