I received a gift card to Olympia Sports for Christmas. It was a very generous gift, and I thought (foolishly) that I’d head over to the mall on the 26th to pick up a new Pirates cap.
Quite predictable, there was no Pirates gear in the store. Living in Red Sox country (with a large population of Yankees fans) pretty much guarantees that if any out-of-town small market teams are represented, it will only be by overly stylized novelty items meant for non-fans.
I browsed anyway. I found some nice winter socks and some snow pants on deep discount that will help me stay longer on the sledding hill with the kids. So I found good use for the gift card.
But then this happened…
I was looking at baseball caps and saw one of those artificially ragged looking styles with the Red Sox B on it. Something about it caught my eye, so I took it off the rack for closer inspection. And upon further review, I found something weird – it said YANKEES on the side of the bill.
Yes friends, they’re starting to manufacture fangear in ways that represent the truth. The Red Sox and Yankees are the same team.
Shortly thereafter I overheard the two people behind the counter complaining about the types of returns they were seeing this year. Some eye rolling and head shaking underscored the refrain, ‘Add it to the list’. Feeling helpful, I dismounted my high horse and pointed out the misprint on the hat rack. Here’s a loose transcript of the conversation that ensued:
Man: Oh yeah. I know about that one. We’re supposed to sell it.
Man: Yeah. ‘Corporate’ told us to keep it out there. There’s a sweatshirt like that on the clearance rack up front. Corporate wants us to sell that one, too.
Me: Who do they think is going to buy that stuff?
Man: I don’t know. But I can’t return them.
I checked the prices on both items. The hat was regular price, $22 or so. The youth-sized sweatshirt with RED SOX on the front and the top hat and bat on the sleeve was ‘reduced’ to $41.96.
Seems ridiculous, but clearly Corporate has a plan. And Corporate knows! They know that, fundamentally, there is no difference between the two teams. Even in the warzone of a border state, there’s no difference between the teams. Corporate knows the truth. Corporate knows that there’s only one important logo in the big market universe: it’s green with eagles. Fans aren’t real people to these guys. Fans are just credit card vectors.
But here’s the weird thing. Corporate reality, while it drives the policies and marketing of baseball, does not reflect the reality of us fans. No one will buy that stupid hat. Certainly not at full price. No kid is going to wear that sweatshirt – he’d get ridiculed (at least). Fans don’t want Corporate mistakes.
Unfortunately, that’s not the message Corporate gets when it comes to baseball. The lack of a salary cap, the drafting rules, all of that – is a mess. The entire economic construct of Major League Baseball is a mistake. And yet – the fans are still buying it. MLB profits are at an all-time high; merchandise is flying off shelves; baseball players continue to hold celebrity status on and off the field. We are, metaphorically speaking, buying a mis-stitched product at full price. In fact, we seem to be paying extra.
The New York Red Sox continue to dominate ESPN top stories and TV revenue and free agent dollars. I guess they’re finally making merchandise that reflects this reality.