Grantland Rice once said, “A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion.” I hope fans are wiser than Bud Selig thinks they are.
The Frenzied War of Words As Baseball Enters Its Winter of Discontent?
As another Christmas looms over us (Santa will get a special
escort this year?), we are getting a glimpse of just how important the wranglings
of this baseball off-season are to the men who run it.
That glimpse tells us that
there are no visions of sugarplums dancing in the heads of Budzilla and
his flock of elves in the Commissioner?s office. Even as free agent signings
continue, pushing the matter of contraction from sports page headlines, Bud
Selig and company are mounting an arm-twisting campaign that has literally
no precedent in the history of baseball public relations.
Exhibit A?Rob Neyer.
Rob was the first to clue us in on the ?hard sell? approach being undertaken
by Budzilla and his bobos. Rob told his readers that none other than Selig himself
grilled him over one of his more scorching columns about baseball?s economics.
Of course, Rob didn?t go
into exact detail about what portions of his column Budzilla was questioning.
Nor did he reveal anything else that might have been said about the slant that
he had been taking on the matter, either over the years or of late. (The truth
is, of course, that many writers have been raking Budzilla over the coals since
the announcement of MLB?s silly, self-serving, and suspicious contraction ?plan.?)
Is it merely a coincidence
that a few days later, Neyer suddenly found a new target in MLBPA chief Don
Exhibit B?Paul White.
Those of you who think my ?days of rage? began over a certain matter related
to pitch counts probably don?t remember that the editor of Baseball Weekly
took a shot in the pages of the Big Bad Baseball Annual (in the 1996
edition). In a section called ?Talking Paul White Blues,? yours always-irascible
truly pointed out that White was making light of the labor situation (at that
time, MLB and the players were dragging their feet about fixing the CBA, and
no one in the media was willing to talk about it).
Now here we are five years
later, and Paul White has been magnificent on the labor and economics issues
this time around. Apparently Paul has had a bellyful of this stuff, because
he?s been about as righteously indignant as a guy with an engagingly silly smirk
What may be more significant
is that Paul broke the story about a more widespread campaign of arm-twisting
from the Commissioner?s office.
While Paul worked hard to
cast such actions in a positive light, the revelation that far more effort is
being put into ?spinning the facts? in this edition of baseball?s St. Vitus
Dance shows that Selig and company are willing to move toward Draconian measures
inside baseball?s community in order to turn around the essentially disastrous
press they?ve been getting for the past six weeks.
And finally, there?s Exhibit
C?MLB?s attempt to ?spin? the issue of competitive balance via public opinion
surveys that?ever so conveniently?show ostensible public support for the owners?
The consulting firm of Penn,
Schoen, and Berland conducted a poll for MLB, and a leaked copy of their
report shows that Budzilla and his boys are mounting a carefully-crafted campaign
to narrow public perception to their talking points. (As you?ll see, this is
far from the ?open, intelligent debate of baseball?s economic and political
issues? that Paul White hopes to see emerge from such efforts.)
The first bogey in the MLB
opinion poll spin is in the claim that three out of four fans believe that there
is lack of competitive balance in baseball. The actual figures show that only
36% of the poll respondents ?strongly agree? with this assertion. Another 39%
?somewhat agree? with this statement.
So, in fact, only slightly
more than a third of baseball fans are seriously concerned about this issue.
That?s not how Budzilla
and his boys will spin the data, of course. ?Three out of four fans!? they?ll
be screaming from the rooftops.
A bit further down in the
report, the marketing wonks get their licks in. ?If competitive balance is not
improved,? they conclude, ?42% of fans will lose interest in the game.?
Interestingly, they break
this down into ?avid? fans and ?moderate? fans. (Let?s skip over the fact that
they don?t bother to define these categories for us, or apparently don?t feel
the need to generate any kind of product linkage profile for these groups?i.e.
how many games are attended on average by these groups, how much money is spent
on average, etc.).
Strangely, the ?avid? fans
are far less worried about competitive balance issues. Only 35% of them will
lose interest, as opposed to 47% of the ?moderate? fans.
It?s kind of interesting
that this figure?35%?is almost identical to the earlier percentage of fans agreeing
that there is a lack of competitive balance. It really seems that slightly more
than a third of the most important baseball fans (that is, the ones that probably
spend close to 75% of the income MLB derives from ticket sales, parking, and
concessions) are worried about this issue.
And yet you?ll be hearing
that ?3 out of 4 fans? think competitive balance is out of whack.
Probably the funniest slide
in the presentation comes when MLB tries to prop up Budzilla. 77% of the fans
responding to this poll apparently said that they see Selig in a more positive
light as a result of his efforts to get out the message that MLB has a competitive
As Charlie Saeger
pointed out, the wording of this question must have been exceptionally precise
to produce such a result, given that about 77% of the media has been hammering
on Budzilla with anything not nailed down to the floor over the past six weeks.
A more blunt question, such
as ?Do you think Bud Selig has done a good job as Commissioner of Baseball??
is not going to produce a 77% approval rating. The spin cycle here is about
six times the average speed of an industrial-strength dryer at your corner Laundromat.
Some economic issues do
get addressed. The poll claims that 62% of fans believe that baseball is having
financial problems?but, as we?ve seen before, this figure is likely a combination
of ?serious financial problems? and ?some financial problems,? with about half
in each category. The consulting firm wasn?t willing to break down the specific
responses for this question, which often means that they?re trying to hide a
soft spot in the data.
Any way you slice this data,
it appears that maybe a third of baseball fans are buying all or part of the
owners? message. Their efforts here are to make it appear to the media and the
public that the support for the owners? position is twice as strong as what
it actually is.
And, of course, that?s why
they call it ?spin.?
In the final slide, the
consulting firm lets us know that it interviewed 1000 baseball fans, 310 of
which were ?avid? fans. I realize that there are valid claims for scientific
polling, but I am just not convinced that we know enough about the constitution
of this group to feel confident that they represent the full contingent of hard-core
fans. Penn, Schoen and Berland aren?t telling us, and MLB isn?t going to, either.
The job of the pollster in this case isn?t to tell us what really is, it?s to
give the client something they can use to sell their message.
Frankly, we?d be better
off running our own poll, and my hope is that the editors here at Baseball Primer
and the guys who?ve taken their lumps from me in the past will seize this opportunity
to create polls of their own, ones that ask blunt, direct questions about baseball?s
economic situation, the issue of competitive balance, and the performance of
Bud Selig and his MLB elves.
They might also ask people?s
opinions about contraction?a question that was curiously absent from the Penn,
Schoen and Berland data set.
Or perhaps there was no way to spin that question to a figure
Posted: December 23, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 20 comment(s)
Login to Bookmark