Baseball Keeps Reaching out to Younger demographic.(SPORTS)(SPORTS PEOPLE)

Article excerpt

Byline: Eric Fisher, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Baseball again has labor peace, but the sport's Cold War has done its damage. Attendance is off from coast to coast, fan interest is down by many other measures, and the NFL has begun anew, quickly taking back its position of global sports dominance.

As debate continues on the potential effects of the pending changes to baseball's economic system, everyone in the game agrees on one thing: Baseball must do far more to promote itself and stop trashing its own product.

Major League Baseball last week made a significant step in that direction, rolling out its latest advertising campaign, entitled "Wear the Ring." The multi-million dollar effort picks up where MLB's "Dynamic Superhumans" ads left off in early July, when stars such as Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Barry Bonds were shown as animated heroes performing larger-than-life physical feats. This time, however, the focus is geared to the upcoming postseason and quest for autumn immortality.

The effort is clearly a mea culpa of sorts for MLB, without making a direct apology to fans. Commissioner Bud Selig addressed that partly in an open letter to fans two weeks ago, acknowledging the tense, often bitter 10 months of labor talks "tried the patience of players, clubs, and you, our fans." But the formula for the ads is tried-and-true: showcase the stars, include lots of energy and quick cuts, and focus squarely on the on-field competition.

Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business, said the new ads were not specifically designed in response to the labor strife and the strike that was barely averted. But he acknowledged the ads' potential usefulness in shifting fan attention back on the field.

"These ads are running in exactly the same format and tone and tenor they were originally planned in," Brosnan said. "Fortunately, we get to keep these right on schedule [with labor peace secured]. And the plan is certainly for them to be very useful [in improving fan interest]. …