Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: MLB

Content vs. Promotion

Minor League Baseball teams are masters of promotion. Last night, I was watching an episode of Man vs. Food where Adam Richman traveled to three separate minor league stadiums to sample their gimmicky food items. I saw him eat a bacon cheeseburger with a fried Krispy Kreme donut bun in Sauget, Illinois and a five-pound, five-cheeseburger Super Burger in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before I changed the channel. You’d never see these food items at a major league ballpark, not leastwise because healthy-eating groups would have a field day (One can only imagine Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction if the Yankees started selling a five-pound burger. He’d outlaw all stadium food, and spend $20 million to do it.) You see it in minor league stadiums because minor league baseball needs to give fans every reason possible to come to the park to watch something that is an inferior product.

Those who argue that promotion is more important than content on the Internet could learn something here. Superior products sell themselves. Major League Baseball has an advertising budget, to be sure, and has blistered the airwaves with their “Beyond Baseball” commercials this fall. But they do it because they’re competing against other forms of entertainment for dollars—not other forms of baseball. Geographic factors aside, Major League Baseball does not need to worry about Minor League Baseball stealing its market share. It’s just not happening.

But wait, promotion junkies might say: what if Minor League Baseball had Major League Baseball’s advertising budget? Then the playing field would be even, except it wouldn’t: MLB would still have the product.  MLB has long been accused of not selling the game well enough in the “hip-hop era” (I can’t believe I just used that term), yet attendance is up and while food at the ballgames is a draw, it’s not the draw. There are easier ways to get Shake Shack than to go to Citi Field. There aren’t really easier ways to get five-pound burgers than to go to a West Michigan Whitecaps game.

It’s the same on the Internet. As my friend Dustin, a comic strip artist, wrote in response to my previous post, here’s the phenomenon of Digg, in a nutshell:

Let’s say you get on the front page of Digg. I’ve done it a few times. You get 3,000 Diggs, it translates into 100,000 hits in one day. You’re like WOW, fuck yeah, this is awesome! The next day you get maybe 15,000 hits. The next day 3,000. Then it gets smaller and smaller and next week you are back where you started. That’s the thing with social media. It doesn’t build your fanbase unless youre constantly generating content that does well. It just gives you spikes in traffic.

Those Diggs are like the Krispy Kreme burger. They’ll get people to come to your MiLB game despite its obvious inferiority, but eventually the popularity will wane. (A result of a Lipitor scarcity, perhaps). That’s why MiLB are constantly running ridiculous promotions, like one in Pennsyvlania where 800 kids stood on the field as a helicopter dropped 100 pounds of marshmallows and 100 pounds of candy toward them. Or the one from 2008 where the Quad Cities River Bandits of Davenport, IA (hey, I’ve been there!) offered free season tickets to anyone who got a team tattoo. For Minor League Baseball, promotion is a full-time job because the product is inferior. The promotion is the product. If you’re starting a blog and have an inferior product, yes, you should focus on promotion. But the better solution would be to spend most of that time creating better posts.

UPDATE: The minor league hijinks are not, it seems limited to baseball.

A-Rod

I’ve probably written more about Alex Rodriguez than I have about any other athlete (last winter’s entry here). He has been everything a sportswriter could ask for: outgoing, vain, naive, foolish, and a hundred other celebrity adjectives. He’s been proud of all of them, even as his on-the-field performance—you know, his job—has suffered at the times it’s needed most. The stats tell part of the story. Until this year, he has been ordinary in the playoffs: not as bad as his critics say, but nothing befitting one of the best players in the game. Three years ago, he was benched against the Detroit Tigers when he was supposed to be carrying the Yankees past an inferior team. At the beginning of this year, he was outed as an incurable narcissist and steroid user in a book by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts. It was the best thing that could have happened to him.

For years, A-Rod had been embarassing himself in increasingly ridiculous ways, and this March, the bubble finally burst. Short of being convicted of any sort of crime, the public’s love affair with the A-Rod foibles was over. People like intrigue, but they don’t cheaters (or what they consider cheaters, at any rate). So A-Rod fell into the background like only he could: he stopped talking, and started dating Kate Hudson. Only in A-Rod-Land can you start dating Goldie Hawn’s daughter and somehow become less interesting, but that’s exactly what happened.

Instead of being the incurable narcissist with the cerebral, psychologist wife whom he tried to please, he started a frivolous relationship with someone who actually appeared to like him. For all A-Rod’s popularity, he has always seemed very alone, trying to fill the significant gaps in his life with newspaper headlines and the plaudits of the baseball aristocracy. His bizarre fascination with cooler-than-thou Derek Jeter was odd, unsurprising evidence of this.

With a relaxed, simmed down A-Rod tearing up everything he sees at the plate, the rapport between him and Jeter has mellowed significantly. Every time something happens that’s good for the Yankees, it’s the two of them clapping and hollering on in lockstep. That is, unless it’s another one of A-Rod’s home runs. Then it’s only Jeter, clapping away on the top step for a teammate he finally respects.

It’s hard to talk about A-Rod without talking about Jeter, and I suspect that Jeter realizes how much he needs Rodriguez these days. Jeter is still a great player, playing at a Hall of Fame level, but the needy, nervy A-Rod threatens to suck the life out of a Yankees team with brutal efficiency. It’s possible and likely that the Yankees’ new additions have kept the clubhouse “loose,” and with Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia working their magic, A-Rod feels like he’s just part of the club of elites instead of bearing the weight of the Yankees season on his shoulders. If Jeter was impervious before, maybe he was oblivious to how much the toll took not on Rodriguez, but the team as a whole. For the first time, it appears they genuinely like each other.

Make no mistake: if the Yankees win this title, it will be A-Rod’s World Series. Jeter will get “one for the thumb,” but the talk will all be about Rodriguez. He’s done so much to lead them there so far it’s almost inspiring to think that he might be able to keep it up. Just as Barry Bonds transcended his October woes to turn in a signature postseason, it appears A-Rod is going the same. The difference is that Bonds did it through methods that ultimately made him a villain (and perhaps not incidentally, he lost). A-Rod did it the other way: by finally becoming the good guy.

Am I Missing Something, Or Have The Sane Baseball People Gone Wacko?

Old-school baseball writers and announcers have, by and large, become a straw man for online critics, who broadside their often ridiculous generalizations with statistics and watch them try to wriggle out of them or double down on their assertions that Derek Jeter is “clutch” without providing any new evidence. This was the entirety of the idea behind the website Fire Joe Morgan, and spawned a new type of “journalism” — take down the stupid guy! Yeah!

The problem with this type of work is that the people doing it are starting to double back on themselves. They’re so concerned with what everyone else is writing that they’re missing the low-hanging fruit. There are so many observations that could be made about what’s going on in the baseball playoffs that aren’t being made by either the “traditional” or “new” media that the “observations” they’re making instead are ridiculous.

Take the play for which Jeter was heartily lauded by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver last night. Bobby Abreu hit a ball into the right center field gap, and took a wide enough turn around second base that he couldn’t get back before Jeter threw to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who had raced over to cover. On the play, second baseman Robinson Cano had stationed himself in front of Jeter, but Melky Cabrera’s throw went over Cano’s head and into Jeter’s glove. Seeing Abreu lose his footing, Jeter snapped a perfect throw off, to the delight of Buck and McCarver.

Was it a good play by Jeter? Yes. But did anyone ask why it happened, then or now? Everyone said Abreu screwed up—and he did—but they never asked why. If you follow the play, it’s easy to see that Abreu was so far around second that there’s no reason for him to think he could have gotten back if there was someone there. So one might ask: why would he do this? How about because the second baseman and shortstop were both in front of him? It’s incredibly likely that Abreu thought there was no one on the base, but there was Teixeira, who had raced behind Abreu to make the play you’re taught to make in Little League but gradually forget to do. It was a brilliant play, for sure, just not for the person who got credit for it.

If Will Leitch wants to know why people hate Joe Buck, that’s why. Also, he announces the game’s like he’s Jacob Silj. But my real pet peeve is Buck’s constant attention to what critics will say. He always unloads, “well, the critics will say…” and ping-pongs opinions on the game. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but he does the faux-equivalency thing the MSM is guilty of w/r/t political reporting. Just because there are two opinions does not mean they are of equal merit. STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE WILL SAY ABOUT THE GAME, AND TALK ABOUT THE GAME. (Oh, and being better than Chip Caray doesn’t make him good.)

Unfortunately, Leitch’s buddy at Deadspin, Tommy Craggs, is not much better. An Angels fan took a video of Mariano Rivera spitting on the ball last night and got a overboard with his analysis… leading Craggs in the odd position of trying to argue against video evidence to try and make a point. Perhaps realizing the silliness of his endeavour, at the end of the post he said it would be “just about the coolest thing ever” if Rivera did throw a spitter—just in case, he, you know, did. Which he did. Craggs’ point, I guess, is that some random Angels fans on a blog are more worth making an example of than focusing a laser beam on the obvious:

1) That yes, Rivera threw a spitter.

2) Yes, it’s cool (I agree).

3) If Rivera is throwing spitters, it stands to reason pretty much everyone else is. So calm down.

Concerned with this? No, he’d rather tell you why your eyes don’t work. (Don’t worry, they work fine.)

I’m all for criticism (as you can see). But base it on what you see, and not what other people say. The game’s the thing. If you read something that’s tearing someone else down just for sport, just quit reading. You’re not going to learn anything anyway.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Amy K. Nelson tweets: “rivera spitball” No. 19 on google trends right now. so stupid.” Right, it’s stupid for people to be curious of things. The commissioner’s office also thinks you’re stupid, btw. They’ve just released a statement saying there’s no evidence he spit on the ball. I’ll assume they mean besides the evidence they have. Did Sammy Sosa have a corked bat or not?

Look, do I think the spitting thing is a big deal w/r/t fair play? Of course not. It’s silly and will pass, and I agree with Craggs that it’s even pretty cool. But it did, you know, happen.

UPDATE 2: Amen to new pals of this website Stupid Sports Blog for nailing this.

No More Vineyard/Nantucket Game?

Sorting out my feelings on the news that this year’s Vineyard/Nantucket game has been canceled, and the Obama Nobel Peace Prize announcement. I also think the ALDS is insidious, not for any fundamental reason but because the short series forces you to watch all of it. I’m happy to miss an inning or game or two of a seven-game series, but if you blink you might miss a best-of-fiver. For all Bud Selig says about there being no compelling reason to change the playoff system, I think that’s the most obvious one. But what do I know?

That’s it for now. Saw The Informant! last night, was unimpressed.

The Myth of NFL Parity

American sports are supposed to be about balance. That’s the thinking, anyway. If every team doesn’t have a chance to win it all every five years or so, there must be something wrong with the system. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a championship are things we believe to be human rights.

It’s galling, then, when your team is out of it from day one. Ask any Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates fan how it feels, and they’ll tell you it’s downright un-American. They don’t have a snowball’s chance in August at beating the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, or Mets who toss around money without looking at the numbers on the bills.

To be fair, this works for baseball’s owners—the only people that the sport is set up to serve. Perhaps that’s why, despite record attendance and viewership, baseball can’t compete with football’s popularity. Or maybe it’s the nature of football that makes it so appealing: fast-paced and, with its once-per-week, short-season setup, well-suited to the short attention spans of the HD era. Finally, it could be the old saw that the NFL is the exemplar of “parity”—that American ideal that your team will, at some point soon, get a chance to win it all. What could be more compelling?

The problem is that the last part isn’t true: there’s no more parity in football than there is in baseball. And the problem might be even worse.

The difference is that while baseball fights over money, football teams stock up on brains. Managerially-speaking, baseball is an easy thing to master: get the best players, make sure they get along, and go. Football’s the opposite. There’s so much to know that’s exclusive to the sport that there are precious few people who have it down cold. There are rules on top of rules on top of rules for everything from the draft to the those the penalty mask penalty, and they change every year. Mastering it is a mix of game theory, attention to detail, and brute force. It’s like knowing the code for Deep Blue, or reading a map of Queens. It’s incredibly hard to do.

For all the talk of NFL parity,there have been more World Series winning teams (8) this decade than there have been Super Bowl winners (6). This year, while some new teams (like  the Vikings and Jets) have joined the traditional powerhouses (Colts, Patriots, and Steelers) amongst the league’s elite, there is a slew of teams that will be luck to win four games. The Chiefs, Browns, Raiders, Rams, Pathers and Lions are symbols of the futility of hope. What are they playing for? Not much. At least baseball’s fickle enough to give teams a glimmer of hope for a couple months. In football when it’s gone, it’s gone.

What’s the cause of this? The strength of organizations. The Steelers, Colts and Patriots understand how the game is run: they supplement star players with replaceable ones, and employ a buy-low, sell-high philosophy. It sounds easy, but it’s not, and it takes supreme know-how to pull it off at every level of your organization: CEO, GM, coaches, players. Everything is constantly in motion, and having everyone keep pace is what makes the great teams great. It’s anything but a numbers game.

That’s what makes it harder than baseball, and why football won’t even out anytime soon. In baseball, a good numbers man (or woman) can still exploit the gaps and give the little team a fighting chance. In football, it’s one giant gap to be exploited, and the people who do it at a championship-caliber level are far fewer in number than their baseball counterparts. Football’s not considered a thinking man’s game, but if you look beyond the line of scrimmage, it’s exactly that. It’s like 53-person chess. If you’re good, you’re good, and if you’re not, you’ve got a better chance hoping for a miracle at a Mets game.

The Art of Tweeting Gracefully

I’m on Twitter. Sue me. Just make sure to Tweet about it 43 times too.

The last time an Internet phenomenon spread this quickly, it was YouTube. Between the moment I first heard about it and the moment one year removed from that, it had grown from a wisp of an idea to a full-fledged powerhouse. YouTube was the place for Internet video, period, end of story. It served a niche that hadn’t been filled, and did it so well, that it became the brand name for online video. “YouTube” is to video what “Kleenex” and “Band-Aid” are to their markets.

Twitter did the same thing. It’s the blog for people who are too fussy, too important, or too busy blogging to blog. You can find virtually anyone on Twitter, which is what makes it different than blogs. People, and their 140-character thoughts, are easily turned up, making your tweets available to anyone who wants them, and not just in the Wild West internet way: in a controlled, stable environment.

It seems great, right? Well it isn’t.

The problem is that not all Tweets are created equal, or, to be more precise, not all Twitterers are created equal. I care more about what my friends have to say, though I’m careful to mind Twitter as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, our actual relationship. But how am I supposed to find them when CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller Tweets every five minutes, all day? I have (albeit briefly) worked on the White House Unit of a major news operation, so I understand the amount of news created and the importance of every piece of it. Right now, though, it’s 9:26 in the morning and Knoller has tweeted 21 times today. 21 times!

He is far from the worst abuser (and as far as overtweeting goes, you’re not going to find a more informed, more important stream. He’s still clogging my inbox); according to most sources, Tila Tequila tweets about as often as she breathes. In light of a recent lawsuit she’s filed against her NFL-playing boyfriend, her Tweets are “protected,” which means I can’t see them without sending a request that would certainly be accepted. That won’t happen. But “Tequila”‘s Tweets get to the heart of what Twitter really is: the greatest marketing device ever invented. You can connect with brands, people, imaginery characters and they will talk to you — sometimes directly.

Here’s an illustration: the other day, Major League Baseball was giving away a jersey for the 500th person who Tweeted the slogan for their recent advertisement, which was “Beyond Determination.” I tried, twice, but wasn’t number 500. For the contest, you had to go to MLB.com to view the commercial. When I was there, I noticed a repeated spelling error, and I snarkily Tweeted about it. Within 90 seconds, MLB had sent me a direct message — which came ONTO MY PHONE — thanking me for catching the error and attributing it to an third-party company. I immediately felt bad about being snarky, but felt “closer” to MLB as a company — hey, someone was reading! — than I had before.

Contrast that with last night, when I was doing today’s New York Times Crossword Puzzle early. (I’m something of an addict) When I realized the phrase “Don’t Tase Me Bro” appeared in the grid, I jumped for joy — and lunged for my computer to Tweet “Rex Parker,” who runs a great NYT crossword blog. My elation was diffused within minutes, when he responded to my “I’ve been waiting two years for this” Tweet with a zinger of his own: “Good 2 yrs ago when Onion did it 1st.” Now, since I had apparently missed one instance of it two years earlier in a crossword I don’t do, was I not supposed to be excited? I’m not sure that helped.

In short, the rules of Twittering can be summed up with a Tweet-length primer: Be nice, be interesting, and may your tweets be sparing in number. I’m just the messenger. Don’t tase me.