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EMC slaps its logo on the Boston Red Sox

As a storage reporter who’s also a fanatical Red Sox fan, I’m in good position to comment on EMC’s latest marketing move: the agreement with the Boston Red Sox to place a small patch with the EMC logo on the Red Sox uniform shirt during the team’s trip to Japan in April.

The ‘work’ side of me understands why both the team and EMC would be interested in this joint venture. EMC has already sponsored an entire level of Fenway Park, and its logo is plastered about in many places at the old grounds. The Red Sox, under MLB’s mandate to expand its global reach, need to bring a $200 million team halfway around the world for Opening Day, and ticket prices are already $90. Doesn’t seem like they have a whole lot of choice.

But the sports fan in me remembers the flak when there was talk of displaying ads for Spiderman II on the bases used in games. Heck, in Boston, the sanctity of the Green Monster–historically a billboard anyway–has been cited in decrying advertisers. The problem for Red Sox management is that they are working with a very valuable, but very finicky brand.

At the end of the day, the Red Sox are a sports franchise, and a business, and entertainment. But many people in Boston have deeper feelings about the team–it’s a cultural institution for many people, and for some, even a sacred one. Putting an advertiser’s logo on one of the bases at the same park where Ted Williams played. . .well, you might have an easier time convincing a churchgoer to accept corporate sponsorship on the altar. I know some Red Sox fans who fear that baseball will eventually become like NASCAR, with jerseys so bedecked in ads you can’t tell what team they’re supposed to be for. To see this happen to the Red Sox, for many people in EMC’s home state, would be agony.

Not every Red Sox fan feels this way, and I can’t speak for everyone in Boston–and certainly not Japan, where the logos will be displayed in part to announce EMC’s sponsorship of Major League Baseball. But I will say that the popular fan blog / Boston Globe subsidiary Boston Dirt Dogs posted a photo yesterday of Larry Lucchino holding up the patch at a press conference with the headline, “Nothing’s sacred.” Even though it’s only going to be in Japan, and even though it’s just one logo, it’s the first time the Red Sox uniform has displayed any corporate logo that didn’t belong to the sporting-goods company that manufactured it. I don’t count on a lot of Red Sox fans buying that it’s not a slippery slope.

To people outside the day-to-day baseball melodrama that surrounds the Red Sox, I understand why that might seem silly. And a little hypocritical, if you think about it, because recent attempts by a Boston City Councilman to remove the giant neon Citgo sign from the roof of a building in Kenmore Square in protest of Hugo Chavez met with derision from Sox purists. I can also understand why EMC would want to become another Citgo–to have its logo become another cultural icon, particularly as they try to expand into the consumer storage space, and for the first time have a message for the consumers that fill the ballpark.

Problem is, I don’t think it’ll work. Things are different than when the Citgo sign was installed. Nowadays the sign isn’t really seen as an advertisement so much as a landmark, and its visibility just over the top of the Green Monster from inside the park has made it as much a part of the landscape there as home plate. But in general, corporations and their products are not seen as friendly companions or benevolent institutions. People are going to the ballpark in Boston for entertainment, yes, but also to reconnect with an experience that feels genuine, a throwback to a simpler time. An advertising logo on a uniform that’s barely changed in 100 years isn’t going to sit well in that context.

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Beth, in a way, this is funny. I'm used to seeing our co-workers at TechTarget wearing Sox player jerseys. So, to keep to the apparel thing, this is a bit like putting the shoe on the other foot. Now the Sox players are wearing EMC patches. But you're right, it's a slippery slope. How long will it be before Sox management works out a deal where the players wear special jerseys with, instead of EMC patches, the names of EMC products across the backs of their uniforms? Avamar, Celerra, Clariion. . . .Or maybe they can sell a special promotion where the announcers work EMC product names into their call of the game -- "Well, the storm clouds are rolling in, maybe the game will be Rainfinitied out. . ." "With those two scoreless innings, Pap has lowered his (Cent)ERA down to 1.45. . ." I guess it's just a matter of time before Fenway is rechristened with some corporate monicker, though when the time comes I hope it won't be Symmetrix since the park is so unsymmetrical.
Weird how different that is in other sports. Take professional cycling for example. The athletes are rolling billboards. And people associate them with their team's sponsor without even thinking about it. Andy Hampsten = 7/11, Miguel Indurain = Banesto, Laurent Jalabert = ONCE, etc
There's a big difference between team sports and unaffiliated athletes like golfers, tennis players, race car drives, poker players. . .There are no restrictions put on the latter as far as I know in terms of endorsements. Very different atmosphere for team athletes. Look at the latest uproar over KFC offering a big sum of money to any Patriot or Giant who scores a TD and then does the chicken dance celebration. And the NFL promptly saying that such behavior would be heavily fined.
Even when it comes to football, that KFC thing isn't that much of a surprise. BCS bowl games and the Super Bowl are heavily commoditized as it is. Baseball has more of that "nostalgia" value to it as a league, never mind the "storied Red Sox." I think it's worse when you're talking about baseball, even over other team sports.
I don't think it's just nostalgia. There's all the uniform flap in baseball. Last year they were on Terry Francona because he wore a fleece over his uniform jersey. If a Red Sox player wanted to endorse a storage company by wearing, say, an Iron Mountain patch on his uniform, no way would the Red Sox or MLB allow that. (Of course the player could do a commercial for the company.) And yet a team can dictate that all the players wear this EMC patch. I just find it curious. I wonder what Bill Lee would think of this.