By: Holly Horning
Ah, the season is just about to begin in earnest…..
Whaat? You thought I was talking about playing baseball?
No, there is a sport in which the Tigers have every intention of trying to finish as close to the top as they can.
Filling the seats with as many fannies as possible.
While many were focused on the last of the spring training games this week, I was watching the patterns of action by the local media. And astonishingly, the papers were perfectly synced in their reporting. What are the odds of that happening?
Pages filled with reports, mostly for the casual fan, of glowing expectations about individual players. Or stories about real concerns regarding this team without actually identifying them. And then they go on to give short reports on each player. Reports that only point out how we may expect almost every player to do better this year. Not a single analysis of players we need to be concerned about. All on a team that is expected to be among the worst in MLB.
The logic doesn’t make sense.
Or does it?
Day after day in which the hard questions go unasked. No reports about the team’s weaknesses, especially pitching. Fulmer is great, Zimmermann is pitching his best yet, Boyd is promising, Norris should have a breakout year, Liriano is similar to the days of old and Fiers is conveniently injured which helps avoid the concerns about him.
VMart is completely back to normal and Miggy shows no signs of his previous injuries. Castellanos gets tons of coverage for his bat, but there is silence about that glove. Leonys Martin’s defensive skills are highlighted, but his lead off stats are ignored. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, “yadda, yadda, yadda.”
You get the picture. It’s cherry picking time – and we’re not talking about the orchards around Traverse City.
And then there are the flood of stories about the youngsters and what grand things they will probably accomplish in 2-3 years. Written, presumably, with a crystal ball.
All done for the casual fans who follow the Tigers superficially. And let’s face it – the Tigers are the typical MLB team where the average attendees outnumber those who follow the team more closely.
But the strategy goes deeper.
Lengthy stories appeared in multiple publications, all on the same day, about the new food that will be served at Comerica. Video showing reporters scarfing down some of the new treats and giving their culinary criticism. It’s enough to make you want to barf. The coverage, that is, not the food.
I had to laugh when more pictorial stories were given to the new dishes than they were to the new players on the roster.
But somehow, a story of interest managed to push its way through in one of the dailies that didn’t have that glossy, positive spin to it. By a reporter who used to cover the Tigers full time until (as many reports over the years have alleged) it was requested by unknown powers, that he be moved to covering other sports like golf and curling.
And his story was about the attendance problems the Tigers are having this year. An Opening Day, the first in recent memory, that appears likely to not sell out. Details about the widespread online advertising to sell tickets and the promotion to boost attendance via Groupon.
And this is what it is all about, folks. The tough task of selling fans on what is expected to be a poorly performing team this year. Putting a positive spin and shine on everything associated with attending a game and trying to ignore the bits of reality that try to poke through.
That is the job of the marketing department and you can’t blame them one lick for trying to do their jobs the best they can.
The problem is, they have willing accomplices. People who have jobs that are supposed to require them to promote, support and as well, report the news fairly. To ask lots of questions. To ask probing questions. To ask the hard questions. To report the good with the bad.
But as you can see, the news you are offered (locally, not nationally) is very one-sided. And if you are wondering, this is not the norm for most of the country. I have yet to see this symbiotic relationship in any major East Coast newspaper. And in Washington, where I live, anything that hinted of this would create a firestorm of controversy. That is, if the newspapers actually allowed this visibly-slanted coverage to be printed.
What we’re seeing here locally is a little too uncomfortably cozy.
It’s not about the typical “rah-rah” enthusiasm that generally comes before a sports season starts. It goes beyond that in frequency and pattern.
And it also goes toward an alarming practice seen just this week.
Two newspapers last weekend ran with a story published nationally about Miguel Cabrera. About how he thought it not important to learn most of the other teammates’ names who played with him. Calling them all “bro” instead. And about how he refused to allow the medical staff to examine him for suspected injuries because he didn’t want to go on the DL. A story that hinted at a very self-centered individual. And it was not a flattering report overall.
Yet, approximately 24 hours later, this story disappeared from both of these papers. Not even found in the backup of stories you can read on the Tigers’ home page in the sports sections. Archives that go back at least 3 weeks.
Yet another example of 2 organizations publishing the same thing and then removing the similar stories at the same time.
Wow, another coincidence.
Even if you’re a casual baseball fan, you probably know about Miggy’s transgressions over the years. But why remove this story? Certainly a story that is not as headline-grabbing as the past ones. Why especially this year?
It’s because Miggy is still the franchise face for this team. Now that Justin Verlander is gone, there is more attention on Cabrera until someone, probably Michael Fulmer, can join him on the pedestal. And he is still the main draw for attendance. Especially this year. The Tigers are more dependent upon him than ever to bring the fans into the park. The casual fans all know him. They may not know many others on the team.
And when this will be one of the most difficult years in which to keep those turnstiles moving, the Tigers will resort to promoting their franchise face, the promising future, the food and the entertainment that happens off the field more than ever.
Oh, and don’t forget that this is also the 50th Anniversary of the 1968 World Series championship. Expect that team, along with new Hall of Fame inductees, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, to get a whole lotta love and attention throughout the year. The hope is going to be that living in the past can serve as deflection for a lot of the rebuilding pains that will take place this season.
But can this all sell as many tickets as the Tigers hope it will?
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