||Here’s the Pitch. But First, One from Our Sponsor.
"Phelps painted the corner," the Yankees radio announcer said, describing a strikeout pitch. "Painting at the corners is sponsored by CertaPro Painters. Because painting is personal."
That, baseball fans, is called a drop-in in advertising parlance. Drop-ins have proliferated in recent years as radio stations have tried to offset the rising costs of broadcast rights. The baseball radio broadcast, for so long the soundtrack of summer with an almost sacrosanct rhythm of familiar voices, is now laden with paid advertisements for everything from the umpire lineup to the postgame wrap-up. Televised games have similarly been infiltrated, but not all of their drop-ins are read aloud.
The phenomenon, playing out on airwaves around the country, is most pronounced in Yankees broadcasts. The first Yankees walk prompts, "Just walk into any of CityMD's six convenient locations." The announcement of the game's umpires is brought to you by Levy Phillips & Konigsberg, a law firm specializing in asbestos exposure cases. The personal injury law firm Cellino & Barnes gets a plug when the announcers explain the broadcast's copyright violation policy. A call to the bullpen comes with a nod to one of three sponsors: Aamco Car Care, Hyundai and the Tri-State Ford Dealers.
The postgame wrap-up show? That's brought to you, naturally, by Reynolds Wrap.
"They're not tough to do, but does it feel like it slows the pace of the game?" said Charley Steiner, a Los Angeles Dodgers announcer who previously called Yankee games. "Of course it does. From an announcer's point of view, less is more."
CertaPro and other advertisers said they cherished having their names embedded in the action -- a promotional tool that might be more effective than 30-second commercials that listeners can ignore between innings.
"You get people smiling about it," said Peter Buttenweiser, the managing partner for marketing at CertaPro. Executives at CertaPro, a house-painting company, are happiest if the voice of John Sterling, the Yankees' radio play-by-play announcer, crescendos on a called strikeout leading into the ad.
If not for advertisers eager to be noticed, and stations equally eager to maintain a cash flow, there would be no power, pitch speed, weather, time, environment or injury "reports."
"You realize that they're there to pay for the broadcast," said Scott Franzke, who calls Philadelphia Phillies games on the radio. "So I'm certainly not begrudging that. But you still want some integrity in the broadcast."
Like Eric Nadel, who calls Texas Rangers games, Franzke has leeway to defer, or not use, a drop-in if it sounds out of place in a tight moment of a game.
"We have the First Financial First Run," Nadel said. "But if it's the first run in the ninth, I'll use some discretion and creative judgment to wait a few pitches after a single that put the Rangers up, 1-0."
The commercial colonization of game broadcasts has created fictional locations like the Hertz 24/7 broadcast booth -- where Sterling and his broadcast partner, Suzyn Waldman, toil -- and the Peerless Boilers broadcast booth, home to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin, the Mets' announcers on WFAN. Peerless, listeners are regularly told, makes America's best boilers.
Geico has built a major drop-in outpost. It has turned the mundane 15th out of the game into a Pavlovian cue for Sterling and Rose to tell listeners that a 15-minute call to Geico can help them save 15 percent on their auto insurance.
In this ecosystem, a walk is not only as good as a hit; it is a sales opportunity.
When Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay jogged to first base on a walk on July 4, Sterling was already into his windup -- and this was his pitch: "Just walk into any of CityMD's six convenient locations. See a board-certified E.R. doctor without an appointment." Sterling and Waldman segued into the AT&T 4G LTE speed report.
CBS Radio has been using drop-ins on Yankee games for at least a decade. A few years ago, the company capped their use at current levels. Sterling and Waldman declined to comment.
Joel Hollander, a former general manager of CBS Radio, who also ran WFAN, said the quantity of WCBS's in-game advertising on Yankee games was directly related to the rights fee it paid.
"The bottom line is WCBS writes the check and, like the rest of sports, it's a huge money grab,” Hollander said. "They're paying $13 million or $14 million a year for the Yankees. It's hard to recoup that."
That means giving advertisers more value for their dollars by letting them augment their 30-second commercials with drop-ins, usually in a package that carries no extra cost. WFAN, which pays far less to carry the Mets, uses fewer drop-ins.
On July 4, WCBS had 61 drop-ins, some as short as the name of a sponsor without any embellishments, during a Yankees-Twins game. During a Mets-Pirates game the same day, there were 21 drop-ins.
Drop-ins show how the marriage of sponsors and local baseball broadcasting has evolved from long-ago days when announcers smoked cigarettes or poured beer on the air. But Curt Smith, a historian of baseball broadcasting, said the spree of drop-ins on Yankees games created the impression "of a franchise that doesn't care whether the broadcast is considered quality or not."
A sampling of several team broadcasts showed a diverse world of drop-ins.
The game-time temperature for a Mariners-Angels game was the "environment report" for the sponsor, a maker of green products. The "caught stealing" feature on a Dodgers broadcast was sponsored by an alarm company. And, as Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox was coming to bat one game, the team's station, WEEI, worked in a drop-in about a "wicked awesome three-day sale," featuring bologna, at Shaw's supermarkets.
Red Sox broadcasts are less cluttered than Yankees broadcasts but have more drop-ins than Mets games. "Our philosophy is to run a cleaner broadcast and produce the best listener experience," said Weezie Kramer, the station group president for Entercom, WEEI's owner.
The WCBS philosophy divides advertisers and some listeners. Jerry Grossman, a Yankees season-ticket holder from Manhattan, said he was once aghast at the glut of advertising during games. Now he is inured to them. Paul Landaw, a chef from Bellerose Terrace, on Long Island, who listens to Yankees games but is a Mets fan, responded to an e-mail seeking comment by writing, "I look forward to providing help to your cause, driven by Jeep, of course."
Just as fans of another generation could instantly identify Joe DiMaggio's place in the Yankee lineup, fans like Landaw know that Jeep's name is usually heard at the end of each half-inning.
(Source: The New York Times, 08/19/13)
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