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Yankees Balk at 'Spider-Man' Ads on Bases

  AP Photo

Spider-Man is coming to a base near you. In the latest example of a sponsor's stamp on the sports world, ads for the movie "Spider-Man 2" will be placed atop bases at major league ballparks during games from June 11-13.

The promotion, announced Wednesday, is part of baseball's pitch to appeal to younger fans — and make money along the way.

But the New York Yankees, one of 15 teams at home that weekend, balked at the idea after the deal was announced. They will put ads on the bases only during batting practice, and then just for one game, team spokesman Rick Cerrone said.

While commemorative logos have been on bases for special events such as the All-Star game or World Series, the Hall of Fame knew of no other commercial ads on bases, spokesman Jeff Idelson said.

"This was a unique chance to combine what is a sort of a universally popular character and our broad fan base, including the youth market we're trying to reach out to," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "It doesn't impact the play or performance of the game."

Nowadays, ads can show up just about anywhere in sports.

Telecasts of major league and college football games, for example, include virtual ads visible just to TV viewers. College football bowl games are named for advertisers. Boxers' backs bear stenciled ads. Just last week, a court ruled that Kentucky Derby jockeys could wear sponsors' patches on their uniforms.

"I guess it's inevitable, but it's sad," said Fay Vincent, a former baseball commissioner and former president of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing "Spider-Man 2."

"I'm old-fashioned. I'm a romanticist. I think the bases should be protected from this. I feel the same way I do when I see jockeys wears ads: Maybe this is progress, but there's something in me that regrets it very much," he added.

Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker didn't think it would make a difference.

"I don't care," he said. "You've still got to touch base, whether they got spiders, scorpions or snakes on them."

The movie promotion has been in the works for more than a year and will include ad buys and ballpark events, such as giving masks to fans, said Jacqueline Parkes, baseball's senior vice president for marketing and advertising.

The ads, about 4-by-4-inches with a red background and yellow webbing, won't appear on home plate. The Yankees did agree to allow ads in the on-deck circles during their series that weekend against San Diego.

"Spider-Man 2" opens June 30, and the weekend in early June was picked because it is during interleague play, which draws higher attendance than usual.

"We need to reach out to a younger demographic to bring them to the ballpark," Parkes said. "They are looking for nontraditional breakthrough ways to convey 'Spider-Man' messaging. ... It's the future of how we generate excitement inside the stadium and about the game itself."

Baseball will receive about $3.6 million in a deal negotiated by Major League Baseball Properties with Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Inc., a high-ranking baseball executive said on condition of anonymity.

The Yankees and Boston Red Sox will get more than $100,000 each, the team executive said, also on condition of anonymity. Most of the other 13 teams playing at home that weekend will get about $50,000 apiece, the team executive said.

Parkes said the amount a team receives depends on the level of its participation. Geoffrey Ammer, president of marketing for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, was not immediately available for comment, spokesman Steve Elzer said.

In a twist, Amanda Aardsma, the sister of Giants rookie pitcher David Aardsma, has a small role in the movie.

Ralph Nader, a presidential candidate and consumer advocate, criticized the deal. He wrote Tuesday to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, denouncing the decision to have ads on uniforms during the season-opening series in March between the Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Tokyo.

"It's gotten beyond grotesque," Nader said. "The fans have to revolt here. Otherwise, they'll be looking at advertisements between advertisements."

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, called for baseball fans to boycott Sony products. Nader is the chair of the organization's advisory board.

U.S. Rep George Nethercutt, a Washington Republican who is a former part-owner of the Greensboro Bats and the Michigan Battle Cats minor league teams, sent a letter to Selig protesting the decision.

"Little Leaguers deserve to see their heroes slide into bases, not ads," wrote Nethercutt, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Todd Zeile of the New York Mets didn't mind the ads.

"We're an entertainment outlet. there's going to be commercialism," he said. "At least, at this point, we don't look like NASCAR drivers or World Cup soccer players. That's not to say that's not in the future."

In separate promotions, the bases also will feature pink ribbons Sunday as part of a Mother's Day promotion to raise breast-cancer awareness, and they will have blue ribbons on Father's Day, June 20, to raise prostate-cancer awareness.

John Hirschbeck, head of the World Umpires Association, said the ads won't make it harder for umpires to make calls at the bases. And it wouldn't bother him if umpires' uniforms had ads — as long as they share the profit.

"We've got it on jockeys' pants. Why not?" he said.

Vincent, brought into baseball by commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, wondered how his friend would have reacted. Giamatti, who died in 1989, rhapsodized about baseball is essays such as "The Green Fields of the Mind," in which he referred to second base as a "jagged rock" in the middle of the field.

"Wherever he is, Bart is spinning," Vincent said. "It's a good thing he's not around."


Ronald Blum, Associated Press. May 6, 2004.

Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.