Hey, nice package
By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

We chose a president who "misunderestimates" and hears "subliminable" messages mostly because the other guy was a boring, robotic bully. We didn't like Al Gore's package, as it were. He stood too close to Dubya during the debates. He interrupted. He even had the nerve to act like he was smarter than George W. Bush. But let me tell you, that wasn't acting. But the nation wasn't nearly as interested in ideologies and platforms. We judge our books by the cover, and we chose the soft one. It was the same thing in 1960 when people who listened on the radio thought that Richard Nixon won the debate with John F. Kennedy, while people who watched on television saw Nixon sweat from his jowls on down and concluded that the good looking guy won. It's packaging. It's presentation. It's preposterous.

Anna Kournikova
How many fans go to watch Anna Kournikova for her tennis?
And it's all over sports. Why does Anna Kournikova get more ink than a Rorschach Test? Why does the Tour de France hold any interest to a world of sports fans who haven't ridden a bike since they passed driver's ed? Was "American Idol" any different than "Star Search"? Why were there only a little more than 5,400 people at the RCA Dome to watch the United States lose to Yugoslavia? Because it was the World Basketball Championship, not the Olympics. Packaging. Presentation. Pathetic.

From the day we're born, we start being influence and fooled by packaging. A baby stares at a shiny object. A boy is mesmerized by the pretty girl in his class only to find out she's a cruel, heartless witch who'll dump him for some kid with a car. (I'm talking to you Sue Fallon!) And a man is captivated by an infomercial promising rock hard abs simply by strapping an electrocution belt around his waste while he finishes off the last of the carrot cake. (It's made from carrots, so it must be good for you. Right? I think I'll have another slice just to make sure I'm extra healthy, and I'll do another 10 minutes with the electric shock belt).

We've gone from selling "used" cars to "almost new" cars to "previously owned" cars. And just recently, I saw a billboard advertising "previously loved" cars. Obviously, the dealer is preying on the customer's naïve susceptibility. If given the choice between some old used car and one that was truly loved, I'm going to choose the one that has already proved itself to be lovable every time. In fact, that's going to be first question the next time I buy a car. Did the previous owner use this car, or did he love it with the white hot passion of a thousand suns? All right, you sold me. I'm taking the minivan home. Packaging. Presentation. Pitiful.

Going to a sporting event these days is like waking up on Christmas morning and seeing a large, wonderfully wrapped present under the tree. There they are, Heinz Field, Gillette Stadium, Reliant Stadium, etc. They sit there like some large box covered in shiny green paper and a giant red bow. Fans will flock to those stadiums just to get an up-close and personal look at them. They want to see the box. But there's a game inside. Just like there was a Barbie's Dream House, or Bob the Builder play set, or lots of balled up newspapers and a deck of playing cards inside that large box on Christmas morning. (The deck of cards was funny, Mom and Dad. I'm still laughing).

Hip Hop
No lame mascot will get kids to come to sporting events.
The first major-league baseball game I ever attended was at Shea Stadium. I can remember my left hand inside my baseball glove and my right hand inside my dad's hand as we zig-zagged our way along the concourse in right field. Looking down on the field, it seemed like my vision had never been so sharp. "Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose" to remember. It was all like some digitally enhanced picture. Each and every 8-year-old kid entering the park for the first time was drinking up every detail, far and near. I remember my dad. I remember Jon Matlack pitching. I remember the Mets winning. But I have no recollection of Mr. Met. There was no Jumbotron. There was no rock 'n' roll between at-bats. No fireworks in the outfield. Just Jane Jarvis on the organ. And it was awesome!

Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with having a little entertainment with your entertainment, I just don't need it. I tune in to see the Super Bowl every year because I love football. But what's with the overhyped, prepackaged four-hour pregame show? We get about two minutes of football analysis and 238 minutes of live music, network self-promotion and overzealous commercials. I get more X's and O's on a birthday card from my kids. But I didn't tune in for packaging. I tuned in because I'm a football fan. Give me football or give me Death ... to Smoochy. I'll watch that tripe on tape, and then switch back for kick-off.

I hear that overrated tennis phenom Andy Roddick thinks there should be loud music playing during the changeovers of tennis matches. Again, I could take it or leave it. But what's the point? Is that really going to attract more fans? Do ring card girls draw boxing fans? Should golf crowds be encouraged to form a conga line as they move from tee to green? Do mascots, music and T-shirts being lobbed from a giant sling-shot really fill seats? Is that why kids go to games? I don't think so. My kids go to games because I drag them kicking and screaming the whole way. And they're not going to become baseball fans because some fanatic dressed up in fur gives them a hug. Not even if it's an actual mascot, and not just a nut starved for attention. They're not going to become football fans because of the interactive games over at The NFL Experience. Yes, they might enjoy themselves more. But they're not going back to another game until I scrape up another $250 to drag them back again. And they're not going to be more likely to bring their kids to a game some day unless they've miraculously become sports fans over the years. I keep praying for that. But while I believe God answers all prayers, sometimes he just laughs at us.

Angels fan
Another fan realizes the true value of that fragile bobblehead doll.
And I believe people who are in the business of selling sports sit back and laugh at us all the time. They say things like: "Look, all those people who bought the Randy Moss jerseys will come back and buy another one if we simply change the design of our uniform." Or, "Bobbleheads! Don't you get it? We'll give away a very breakable 29-cent piece of crap to lure people into the stadium at $30-plus a head. Because we know who the real bobbleheads are?" Or, "We need to have scantily clad cheerleaders dancing to pop and rap music to make people forget they're watching the Tigers and Royals on artificial turf." (I truly am waiting for the day they introduce cheerleaders in major-league baseball. Twelve babes on top of each dugout yelling: "Pitch 'em high, pitch 'em low. Come on team, let's go, go, go!" Or, "Pitch 'em high, pitch 'em low. This ump doesn't know is hmmmmm, from his elbow!" During the "hmmmm" part, the ladies might turn and shake a little something at the 2,300 fans in attendance. Look for it at a ballpark near you.)

At a ballpark near me, I went to see the New Britian Rock Cats. Every player had his own theme music blaring from the speakers when he came to bat. The mascot was signing autographs. There were contests with fans on the field between innings. Some guy with a microphone walked through the crowd with prizes. The public address system played sound effects like glass shattering when a foul ball went near the parking lot. It was a wonderful summer night full of energy. The kids ate it up. I liked it, too. But I'm telling you, oversaturating the marketplace with "entertainment packages" will not create a new generation of sports fans. Kids have to learn to love the game. And it's harder to learn with all the distractions. The distractions are just icing. The game is the carrot cake. Mmmm. I think I'll put the shock belt on full power.

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.





IT'S IN THE GAME

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