By Ken Reed
I can still see my dad, lying on his nursing home bed, listening to a baseball broadcast on his transistor radio.
The broadcasters were his daily companions as he dealt with a challenging and scary health issue. In a sense, they were actually his friends; people he could count on to take his mind off his current predicament and transport him out to the ballpark.
Good baseball radio broadcasters do more than report what’s happening on the field. They carry on a light conversation with listeners. A certain relationship is built.
My dad certainly wasn’t alone in his love of baseball on the radio. Millions of baseball fans find comfort, companionship, and a sense of normalcy every spring, summer and fall by listening to radio broadcasts of the local baseball team.
One high school summer, I worked for a drug store and my primary responsibility was to deliver pharmaceuticals to nearby nursing homes. As I delivered my packages to the nursing stations, I could hear the familiar cadence of broadcasters calling that day’s baseball game emanating from the rooms of residents.
Of course, baseball on the radio is not just a nursing home phenomenon. Baseball radio broadcasts can be heard on backyard decks and patios, in parks and at campsites. Fans listen to radio broadcasts while working, or driving around town doing errands. Others use earphones and listen to the games while watching their kids play in youth baseball, softball and soccer games.
Some people – myself included – love listening to baseball games while mowing the lawn or doing other yard work. The familiar voices that make up the “soundtrack of summer” can help distract one from work that is often drudgery.
In a lot of ways, baseball radio broadcasters are servants doing a community service by making the day-to-day lives of listeners easier and/or better.
All that said, I am deeply disturbed by a trend in baseball radio broadcasting that’s getting out of hand and moving beyond simply being annoying. I speak of the practice known in the industry as drop-in ads. These in-game sponsorships have proliferated over the past decade.
As an example, during a May 31, 2017 New York Yankees radio network broadcast of a Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles game, there were 82 drop-in ads, according to research done for consumer advocate Ralph Nader. On July 4, 2013, the New York Times found “more than 60” drop-in ads during a Yankees radio network broadcast of a Yankees-Minnesota Twins game. Of course, these numbers don’t include the scores of ads during half-inning breaks.
Listen, nobody begrudges a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, or their radio partner, from making money off a radio broadcast. But the excessive use of drop-in ads by the Yankees – and other teams around Major League Baseball – are making a mockery of the art that is broadcasting baseball games via radio.
When it comes to baseball radio broadcasts today, everything seems to be for sale. Consider these examples from the May 31, 2017 Yankees broadcast:
· “The game time temperature is brought to you by Brothers Supply, your number one source for ice air PTACs, water source heat pumps and fan coils.”
· “The national anthem salute to America is brought to you by Mutual of America.”
· “The starting battery is brought to you by Interstate Battery Distributors of New York and Connecticut. Every battery for every need.”
· “The first walk of the game is brought to you by Intel Power 2 in 1, flexible as you are.”
· “The call to the bullpen is brought to you by Geico, 15 minute can save you 15% or more on your car insurance.”
· “The defensive alignment is brought to you by Black Bear Forest Fresh deli meats, franks and cheeses, only at ShopRite.”
· “Scoreboard update is brought to you by Mercedes Benz Tri-State dealer.”
· “Today’s game attendance brought to you by Columbia Bank, serving New Jersey for 90 years.
This over-commercialization takes place incessantly these days. While the Yankees and their radio partners might be the worst offenders, teams across the American and National Leagues do similar things.
The bottom line is, listening to baseball radio broadcasts today isn’t as enjoyable or comforting as it used to be. It’s more like meeting a long-time friend for a relaxing coffee chat only to get barraged by a sales pitch for the latest multi-level marketing scheme.
Baseball on the radio used to be one of life’s simple pleasures. No longer. The reason? Revenue-At-All-Costs (RAAC) seems to be valued more by MLB franchises than integrity and quality game broadcasts.
The best companies in the world know that some things are more important than making another buck. But for the Yankees and other teams, when it comes to their radio broadcasts, greed rules the day.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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