The Ball Field Was Corny

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Arthur Solomon

Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams, said one of the most misquoted lines in movie history, when he said, “If you build it, he will come.” Ever since the line that was said in the sports fantasy movie has often been misquoted as “If you build it, they will come.”

And they certainly did, when the first Major League Baseball game in Iowa’s history was played at the Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville on August 12 between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees.  

The PR stunt was supposed to celebrate the nostalgic rural nature of baseball’s beginning.  And many did come, filling the 8,000 seat stadium. But any resemblance between the high salaried players, those people who attended the game and Joe six-pack was missing, because even if all the “working stiffs” in the world assembled in Dyersville most certainly couldn’t afford the price of a ticket.  In effect, the Field of Dreams game was an elite TV stunt, thought up by elite high-salaried executives.

The average ticket price on the resale market was a record $3,500 on StubHub and $4,200 on SeatGeek, according to published reports. StubHub says the average for Thursday’s game on its site was $1,400; at SeatGeek, the average price of tickets sold on its site was $1,557. TickPick says the top ticket on its site went for a cool $4,000 and the average ticket price was $1,300 and change. CNBC said some premium seats sold for $10,000.

Tickets had a face value of either $375 or $425, and were sold to fans in Iowa and White Sox season ticket holders who won lotteries for the right to buy about 8,000 seats at the temporary stadium.

The tickets were the most expensive average price for a regular season baseball game, which has become too expensive for many would-be buyers to be considered for a family outing. TickPick reported Opening Day prices for the 2021 season increased 53% when compared with the first game of 2019. It said the average ticket price for 2021 openers was $162.21, up from $105.74 in 2019.

While the average cost of a regular season game ticket is among the lowest of any major sports at $53.00, baseball has been promoted as a family sport. But when you add in two hotdogs, a beer or two, soft drinks for kids, and perhaps an ice cream, the cost for two people attending a game is more than $100, excluding transpiration costs. Perhaps that’s why baseball stadiums are rarely sold out and Major League teams have no hesitancy to moving their franchise to another location.

In my opinion, as a PR person who feels that stunts must have an immediate positive response, the Field of Dreams game was a stunt whose objectives escape me.

Here are a few stunts that I created:

  • The stunt: For a Broadway show that featured a belly dance, I had the belly dancer give free lessons to any women who would register for lessons on a certain day. Reason why: To gain publicity for a show in order to increase ticket sales.
  • The stunt: To introduce a new line of tennis clothes I arranged for a tennis court to be set-up near New York’s Times Square area. Any passerby who could return the serve of a professional tennis player would win a prize. Reason why: To gain publicity for a new line of clothing that would receive more than just trade pubs publicity.
  • The stunt: For an unknown local political candidate, I arranged a subway “whistle stop” campaign with the candidate getting off the train at each stop in his district to introduce himself to potential voters. Reason why: To breakthrough the clutter of routine political announcements that were an everyday occurrence during an election season.
  • The stunt: To promote the use of fiberglass, I suggested setting up an indoor playground made entirely of the product and invited reporter’s to bring their youngsters to the playground. Reason Why: To show the various ways the product can be used.
  • The stunt: For a classroom instructional game called “Math Baseball,” I arranged for local Major League teams to participate in staging a game as a community relations promotion. Reason Why: To promote the educational products of a company. 

Each of these stunts had a direct purpose: To gain media coverage that would have an immediate positive affect that couldn’t be achieved another way. And they all achieved that goal. (Importantly, I told the clients that the stunts wouldn’t result in long time publicity and that they were an add-on to attract instant media attention as part of a strategic program.)

Did Major League Baseball think that dressing up players in old time uniforms and playing a game in a corn field would produce meaningful results? If a hotly contested pennant race doesn’t bring out the fans, a made for TV stunt certainly won’t.

The Field of Dreams game had two clear winners, in my opinion – Dyersville, Iowa, which will now be a destination for baseball junkies, and Fox, which televised the game.

“Fox will rake in more ad sales revenue from the Field of Dreams game this week than from any other regular-season game during the network’s 25-year relationship with the league. Not only that, but the ad sales revenue from Thursday’s game will more than double the revenue from the No. 2 regular-season game,” Sports BusinessJournal reported on August 9. But, as with any one-shot event, the long time results are fleeting. 

Whenever I orchestrated a stunt, it was to achieve an immediate positive effect and gain publicity for a client that otherwise would have been impossible to achieve. But Major League Baseball gets free publicity every day in newspapers, radio and TV sportscasts. During certain times of the year, the sports reports are saturated with baseball news. And while other events, like the Olympics, are adding events that are popular with younger people, baseball resorted to the nostalgia play.

Despite the one or three day hullabaloo, the Field of Dreams stunt will soon be a memory until next year. Good PR strategy should produce long time results. I don’t see how the Field of Dreams game will do that. It’s not like other promotional stunts, like the Academy Awards, the Tony Awards and so many others that result in immediate ticket sales.

An important taka-a-way for PR people is that any stunt must be strategic because publicity for publicities sake is meaningless. And the message points must be clear. I still don’t hear them from Major League Baseball.


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and nonsports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net