Red state strategy

Baseball’s popularity is consolidating in the Northeast, where predictions of a Red Sox and Phillies World Series match-up might be spoiled by the always dangerous Yankees. Baseball’s World Champion resides in California where MLB marketing, Showtime and video game ads are wisely promoting the Giants as the fun young team to root for. (I had suggested they do that this winter.)

But the most popular teams of Middle America, the Cubs and the Cardinals, are ironically at crossroads. The Cardinals might be losing their franchise superstar and the Cubs have a huge payroll but are already fighting and not expected to contend.

Cincinnati: Great American Ball Park - Pepsi Power Stacks

This leaves, however, a unique opportunity for one of baseball’s most traditional franchises to expand its appeal beyond its city limits. With the right marketing, coverage and fan support, the Cincinnati Reds could become the new Boston Red Sox.

A baseball-first city

Most major cities’ sports fan bases tend to put football first. While that statement might yield some angry comments, numbers don’t lie. Football team’s popularity tends to trump the baseball teams in most areas. I would argue that even in Philadelphia, the Eagles are more popular than the best Phillies team since Mike Schmidt was in uniform.

Boston, New York and St. Louis are consistently baseball-first cities. San Francisco can be as well, but I was living in the Bay Area when the Giants were in the World Series and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl in the same year. It was no contest. San Francisco was a Niners city and the Giants almost left town.

Cincinnati, however, could become a baseball-first city. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in 20 seasons. The only headlines they have been making in the past few years have been in the police blotter.

The Queen City is much richer in baseball tradition and memories than for football. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first professional club and their formation is recognized by many as the beginning of Major League Baseball. (That’s a somewhat dubious claim seeing that the Red Stockings no longer exist.)

For years baseball would start its season in Cincinnati (before it started opening the season in Japan at a time too early to watch). And the Reds have a wealth spring of great former players to celebrate, including the Big Red Machine stars like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster and some other player who wore number 14 that we aren’t supposed to mention.

Frank Robinson, Barry Larkin and Eric Davis had their glory years there. And listen to Rob Dibble on the radio and he’ll bring up the 1990 Reds no matter what question is asked him.

And, of course, whenever anyone throws a no-hitter, the name of Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer is brought up, being the only player to throw no-hitters in consecutive games.

The Reds had great teams in the 1910s, the 1940s and the 1960s. They had arguably the greatest National League team in history in the 1970s, contenders in the 1980s and another championship team in the 1990s.

After a decade of irrelevance, they are back. The Reds are the defending division champs. With the reigning MVP Joey Votto signed for three more years and an exciting young pitching staff, the Reds might be playing in October for the foreseeable future.

There should be a combination of rekindled nostalgia for the Reds in older fans and the novelty of being excited about the Reds for the first time in younger fans. And while Great American Ballpark has been open for more than a decade, the experience of going there to see a good Reds team is still a novelty.

The current Celtics team has brought back for me memories of rooting for Bird, Parish and McHale and for older fans rooting for Russell, Havlicek, Cousy and Cowens. But younger fans in Boston finally have their own era to root for. I saw it in New York when the Joe Torre era brought about a new pride in being a Yankees fan. Older fans loved coming back to the stadium where they remembered Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson while younger fans embraced the team as the players they were going to cherish.

Expanding the tentacles

But remember another interesting fact about Boston and New York as powerhouses. In the early 1990s, as the Reds were defending their last World Series title, tickets were easy to get for Yankees games. The Red Sox had their passionate following in New England, but they were hardly a national presence.

The Yankees marketing themselves into coast-to-coast prominence and the Red Sox becoming a world wide brand are relatively new developments. Yes, much of the rise of the franchises came from media coverage and it didn’t hurt that ESPN was smack dab in the middle of Boston and New York.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

It also didn’t hurt matters that the two teams were the best teams in the game. Plus, their head-to-head games were great TV and they faced off in a pair of classic seven-game ALCS in back-to-back seasons.

And of course many people move to Boston in college and get hooked on the Red Sox for life. And more people move to New York and adopt the Yankees as their own. And there are countless transplanted New Yorkers and New Englanders throughout the country who never surrender their fandom. I am one of them. I haven’t lived in Massachusetts since 1987. I live a mere 10 minutes from Dodger Stadium but remain a loyal Red Sox fan.

But they were also sold to a very wide region. The reach of Yankee fandom spread far beyond the metropolitan area. Northern New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut up to New Haven, upstate New York including Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo are all Yankee territory. (Of course they share those places with the Mets, but the Yankees reign supreme.) Meanwhile the Red Sox have all of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and those parts of Connecticut not on the Metro North Line.

That regionalization (plus TBS) made the Braves the team of the South. The Giants are learning the advantage of their team having a presence in surrounding cities as their brand is expanding. It is the main reason why they won’t simply let the A’s move to San Jose. And the Orioles reach into Washington was the main controversy that kept the Expos-to-D.C. move on hold all those years.

Which brings us back to the Reds. Geographically and in terms of baseball relevance, they rest in a potentially advantageous spot on the map.

Cincinnati has the 24th largest metropolitan area in the country, bigger than Cleveland but smaller than Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Tampa. But the Reds are also the closest team to Dayton (61st largest metropolitan area.) With the Indians being a truly dreadful team, the Reds could become the top team all across the state except in the Cleveland-Akron area. That would include Columbus, which is the 32nd largest metropolitan area.

Beyond Ohio, the Reds are across the river from Kentucky, only two hours from Louisville, the 42nd largest metropolitan area. Plus the Reds are an hour and a half drive from Lexington, another metropolitan area of half a million people. Extending slightly further into Indiana, the Reds are the closest club to Indianapolis, the 34th biggest region and one of the largest without a major league team.

Create a radius from home plate at Great America Ballpark and extend it out to Louisville, Indianapolis, Columbus, etc and you will see a wide reach of cities besides Cincinnati that should be cheering for the Reds. And the Reds’ presence in those cities should be noticed.

The Reds of course have minor league teams in Louisville and Dayton. Sending the pipeline of players through other cities has certainly helped the Red Sox gain popularity (players go through Lowell, Mass., Portland, Maine and Pawtucket, R.I. before hitting Boston.) And the Giants send their players through San Jose and Fresno before they show up at China Basin.

Eyeballs, not fannies

The financial success of a franchise used to be calculated by attendance. The Reds need to do some catching up in that department. I would think that with a winner finally on the field, more seats will be filled in 2011.

But today, the real financial success of a franchise is based on television revenue. And unlike the nationwide broadcasting of football, the success all is regional. The Braves and the Cubs became national brands because of the super stations on the 1980s and 1990s. And the Yankees and Red Sox expanded their TV power with their own networks (YES and NESN.) And those networks became staples in all of those additional metropolitan areas I listed above. The Reds need to do this as well. Of course they show games on FSN Ohio and other states carry their games. They need to do more.

Think about that radius of cities that should be Reds first. That is a collection of cities that could constitute a television network. Old memories are rekindled. The chances of new memories are sold. And the Reds could make the transformation from a relatively small market to getting a much larger slice of the baseball profit pie.

This needs to be a network that the Reds own and set up, not partner with Fox or some other conglomerate. There is a chance to tap into the advertising revenue of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana the way that NESN does all over New England.

This is a unique time for the Reds, especially with the Cubs, Cardinals and Indians not expected to be a factor in 2011. They can win over the hearts—but more importantly the eyeballs and the wallets—of a large fan base. They can get that fan base to watch games, buy merchandise and fill the stadiums and put the Reds in a position where they might become big buyers in the offseason.

Imagine a baseball world where the Cincinnati Reds are mentioned alongside the Yankees and Red Sox as a potential free agent destination. Wouldn’t that be positive for baseball?

Market your product aggressively, Reds. Put that TV network together. And if you need star power, never forget that George Clooney is a Reds fan. Invite him to the network launch.

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Paul Francis Sullivan
12 years ago

Before anyone types anything, I know the Johnny Vander Meer line says “the only player to throw no-hitters in consecutive seasons.”

Is SHOULD read “the only player to throw no-hitters in consecutive games.”

I will correct it

12 years ago

Indeed, if the Indians can afford their own television network (STO), than the Reds can too. How does the Fox/MLB relationship work? Are the Reds contractually obligated to Fox for a set amount of time?

Greg Tamer
12 years ago

A website devoted to promoting this idea should be called … wait for it … Hire Joe Morgan!

I can envision Sean Casey or Adam Dunn some day as the color analyst for the games on the Red Party Network.  Or both; forget the straight man.

12 years ago

never forget that George Clooney is a Reds fan

Unfortunately, so is Charlie Sheen…

But seriously, as a life-long Reds fan, the scenario you lay out would be my dream come true.

Uncle Bill
12 years ago

If baseball wants to expand its appeal beyond the Northeast
Im guessing you have never been to California.

Paul Francis Sullivan
12 years ago

Uncle Bill

I LIVE in California.
And I noted that the appeal of the Giants is thankfully growing.

But comparing the popularity of baseball in the Northeast to the popularity of baseball in California is an unfair contest.

I live near Los Angeles, which is all Lakers all the time.

The Bay Area loves the Giants to be sure but, as I wrote before, when the Giants AND 49ers were good at the same time, there was no contest in the popularity.

And in San Diego, forget about it. I was there for Labor Day weekend with the Padres in first place and in a pennant race… the joint was half empty and all sports talk was about the Chargers.

Sorry… thems the facts

Paul Francis Sullivan
12 years ago

(Why do I have the feeling that Uncle Bill read the teaser and not the article? The California topic was addressed in the second sentence.)

Uncle Bill
12 years ago

i was thinking more about the 30 or so minor league teams, and the fact that there are more ball players from California in the MLB than from anywhere else, and its not even close. If coverage on ESPN is the barometer to gauge Baseballs popularity, we are in a world of hurt.

Heck, i doubt baseball itself could survive if California sat out.

and yeah, i read the article after i posted. smile

Paul Francis Sullivan
12 years ago

“Heck, i doubt baseball itself could survive if California sat out”

Are you referring to developing players or fan interest?

Because if we are talking fan interest, I am sorry, it’s not even close.

I’ve lived in New York and Boston when there was a World Series there. I’ve lived in California for several World Series. The fever pitch of excitement can not even be compared.

Did you know that many Oakland A’s games are not even televised? Imagine pulling THAT off in Boston or New York?

ESPN is in the business of making money. If they felt they would have more eye balls on their TV for the A’s and Angels, they would promote the hell out of them.

There are more transplanted New Yorkers and New Englanders all across the country. I’M one of them. I live in L.A. County as a Boston fan. There are bars here for Boston fans and New York fans and Philadelphia fans and Chicago fans. I don’t remember a lot of Los Angeles sports bars in the 15 years I lived in New York.

The premise of this article was about making the potential baseball first region around Cincinnati a hot bed for a wider brand in the same manner that Boston became one.

(Remember, the Red Sox only recently became a glamorous franchise. Growing up in New England, the Sox were not a flashy franchise.)

Steve Millburg
12 years ago

One thing holding the Reds back, in my opinion, is their radio broadcast team.

Marty Brennaman seems to get crankier every year about the players and what he perceives as their shortcomings.  Both he and partner Jeff Brantley seem more interested in bantering between themselves than in describing, or even noticing, what’s happening on the field.

Good luck trying to follow the ebb and flow of a game.  Brennaman and Brantley frequently ignore pitches and even entire at-bats.  It’s worst during the inning that Brennaman devotes to interviewing a local sportswriter, during which he barely mentions the game itself.

I’m emphatically NOT advocating that announcers be home-team boosters, but I do want them to show passion for baseball.  Brennaman shows irritation more than anything else.  Brantley seems mostly interested in showing how much smarter he (thinks he) is than the players and managers on the field are.

With those two in the booth, it’s just not very much fun to listen to a game.

12 years ago

Marty is unlistenable unless the Reds are winning. Even then he’s still finding a way to say Adam Dunn strikes out too much. Chris Welsh and Paul Keels are great as far as the TV commentary goes, however.

Paul Francis Sullivan
12 years ago

So I take it I won’t be hiring Marty for my new network

12 years ago

I would argue that even in Philadelphia, the Eagles are more popular than the best Phillies team since Mike Schmidt was in uniform.

Not the case in 1993. And while the Eagles dominated Philly from 1994 (when Lurie bought them, combined with the MLB strike) through around 2005 (the Iggles’ Super Bowl appearance), the Phillies have returned to the top spot. I think it was their September 2007 comeback against the Mets that did it—almost a mirror image of the ‘64 collapse.

Steve Millburg
12 years ago

Not if you want it to be the RSN (Reds Sports Network) instead of the BIMDN (Back In My Day Network).

12 years ago

CRN – Cincinnati Red’s Network has a good ring.

I know very little about network agreement’s or the associated costs.  However, I would assume that Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, DirecTV would pay a premium to make the network available on their services.

I would purchase the channel.

Mike Vitt
12 years ago

I’m a huge Reds fan and really ALWAYS want them to succeed .  However I’m a bigger Baseball fan . Its a darn shame that this country ( with a few exceptions) is so dedicated to the inferior game of Football. This article only confirms what I have thought for years . The collective intelligence of the general public is nil(outside of New York, Boston and St.Louis)

Paul Francis Sullivan
12 years ago

Mike, don’t bang your head against the wall.

It’s like lamenting the fact that Dancing with the Stars will consistently get more viewers than Mad Men and Dexter combined.

There’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Just make the product we all love solid and sell it to the right people and it will thrive

Mike Vitt
12 years ago

Thanks for the advice . You are of course correct. I’ve been banging that dead horse for years now.  BTW your article makes some good points. I only question the real potential of the market here in “Reds Nation”.  But I have seen a few more Reds caps around here lately .. Everyone loves a winner

Jason Nimersheim
12 years ago

If you ask me, you’re all wrong… the name of it should be BRM, the Big Red Machine.  smile

Honestly though, the way the Reds have built their team over the past few years has been far more interesting than hiring a bunch of players.  It harkens back to the days that produced the real Big Red Machine, where players came and the team was built over 3-4 years instead of all at once and at absurd prices.  Build your talent from below and all of a sudden, when injuries strike (and they will), you bring up the next stud in line that nobody’s heard about and your team suffers not.  Don’t make the players come to Cincinnati because of a paycheck, make them come because A) they love the game and B) they want to stick around longer than the bare minimum contract.

lifelong reds fan
12 years ago

Great aticle.  Mike, you have to quit banging dead horses.  LOL
“I’ve been banging that dead horse for years now.”

I think we all know what you mean, but man did it look bad when I first read it.

12 years ago

And Charlie Sheen…He’s a Reds fan and he pumps tiger blood.

12 years ago

Interesting article. I hope Mr. Castellini read this. The Reds have improved light years recently in their marketing and I would think that they would have to be considering a tv network. They already control all advertising rights via radio, not sure how the tv deal works. Also, I have to disagree with the radio/tv broadcast crew. I think the Reds probably have the best in baseball (although I must admit I have not heard every teams broadcasters, but they certainly stack up against the national guys). I prefer Mary live and uncut, Brantley continues to get better, Welsh is good, Tom Brenneman sometimes is grating, but overall he is pretty good too. Paul Keels however, is just awful and painful to listen to. I don’t think they brought him back for 2011 thankfully. But, in summary, I think their broadcasting crew would be a definite strength in broadening the Reds appeal to new markets.

12 years ago

Oh, and before anyone mentions it, I apologize for referring to Marty as Mary(lol) and Thom as Tom in my last post.

12 years ago

As a lifelong Reds fan of seventy years, I enjoyed your article. I’ve always thought the Reds did not do enough to promote themselves in the surrounding metro areas of Louisville, Indianapolis and Columbus. The Reds also have a lot of fans in West Virgina and the areas of Nashville and Knoxville. They have an owner who wants to win, a solid front office, combined with an outstanding farm system, so something like the Reds Network could happen. This is the time to get it done.

12 years ago

Die hard Reds fan here. Outstanding article. I think it may be a bit optimistic, but hey, I’m a dreamer as well.

Only correction I have is that this will be GABP’s 9th season, so it hasn’t been open for over a decade.

Thanks for writing!

12 years ago

The Reds in the Haydays of the 70’ss had the AVCO bradcasting network the showed the Reds games on all the old WLW tv stations WLW, WLWC, WLWD, WLWL.This was the Network that Phil Donahue got his regional star ton and had a cuple of other regional shows that I would watch because they always had Redlegs players on there. #5 “JB” even had a show on there for a few years where he would sing and entertain..I mean Lima, Dayton, Columbus, Cincy, Louisville and Indy. We owned Ohio. If i went to see my granpa in Pike county Ky we even got to see the Reds there on local channels. It could happen again. Mr. Castelini, you have done an amazing job! But, we know the revenue stream has to increase to keep our future stars and that means more TV money and fannies in the seats.

12 years ago

Yesterday, in Columbus for the first time I noticed a “This is Reds Country” Billboard.  This was encouraging being a lifelong Reds fan among so many Indians fans.  Its time the Reds regained control of Columbus and the other surrounding metropolitan areas mentioned in the article. Hopefully continued success allows this to happen and makes the CIncinnati Reds a household name, like the Red Sox or the Yankees.

12 years ago

Interesting premise, but Cincinnati has been an NFL town for a long time now, in spite of the bungling Bengals. Draw your own conclusions about the sports IQ of the local populace.