Detroit Sports and Television: Marketing for the Ages

By: Kevin Byrnes

Detroit is a sports city, passionate about the fates and fortunes of its teams. Just listen to sports radio and the opinions-positive and negative- flow over the latest developments of our four professional franchises as well as the high- level college teams at U-M and MSU.

The 1968 Detroit Tigers World Series champions were the team of my childhood (that’s as close to a hint that you’ll get as to how old I am!). Nonetheless, when I think back to that era or, most recently, watch clips on YouTube of the ’68 World Series, the changes and growth of marketing techniques have been extraordinary.

Quick sports history sidebar. There was a pivotal moment in the 1968 World Series that turned the series in the Tigers’ favor. Stay tuned for the answer.

The 1968 World Series between the Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals went seven games, with each game played, wait for it, during the day! That is something that is simply unheard of by today’s standards. And why is that? The exponential influence of television.

All of the games of the ’68 World Series were televised by NBC.  However, not too many years after the Tigers beat the Cardinals, World Series games were moved to evening telecasts. The reason? To reach the greatest amount of audience which of course, is a marketer’s delight.

Here are some other ways the marriage of television, sports and marketing are used locally:

Stadiums:

The 1968 Tigers played at Tiger Stadium, at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull (now the home of the Detroit Police Athletic League). As you likely know, the 2018 Tigers play at Comerica Park. Every Tigers game is televised, at minimum, by Fox Sports Detroit. Every time the Tigers t-v announcers say the word Comerica, it’s another notch in Comerica’s name recognition. Which is why companies willingly spend millions of dollars to secure a stadium naming rights deal. The same holds true for Ford Field (Lions) and now, Little Caesars Arena (Red Wings and Pistons). In fact, I am hard-pressed to think of any major league stadium, even if it is not new, that doesn’t have a corporate tie-in in its name.

In game/broadcast advertising:

Here’s a few samples of a marketing strategy via advertising, in a typical Tigers telecast:

  • Pitch speeds brought to you by (insert company name),
  • This pitching change courtesy of (insert company name)
  • The 6th inning brought to you by (insert company name)

Similarly, shots on goal in a Red Wings telecast, the Pistons upcoming schedule, are also opportunities to market-advertise your good or service on screen. And how about the subtle marketing opportunities through camera angles of a typical telecast.

Rotating signage as the batter bats, superimposed brand names at each end of the ice, company logos on Pistons’ uniforms. Post-game interviews in front of a step and repeat sign with company’s name and logo subtly behind, say for instance Matthew Stafford, while the t-v news cameras roll and capture his every word about what happened on the field. I could go on. And this breakdown doesn’t even take into account radio broadcasts!

The point is, this type of television inspired marketing was not as prevalent in 1968 when the Tigers won the World Series. Simply because the influence of television in sports was not a great as it has evolved into now.

By the way, that pivotal moment I teased about? In game five of the 1968 World Series, played at Tiger Stadium, Willie Horton threw out Lou Brock at home plate on a base hit. The Tigers were trailing at that point in the game. More importantly, they trailed in the series, three games to one. One more loss and the Tigers dream of a world championship were over.

What made the play so iconic was that Brock, regarded as the fastest player in the game at the time, decided not to slide into home plate. The Tigers rallied to win game five and then went on the road to win game six and game seven, securing Detroit’s first World Series championship in decades.

By today’s standards, that throw by Willie Horton brought to you by…..

Kevin Byrnes is the Communications Director for the City of Birmingham (MI). He previously was a Communications Consultant at ByrnesPR & Media Services as well as Senior Communications Manager for Wayne County (MI).  He is a member of the Detroit PRSA chapter (national as well) and serves on the blog committee. He is also a member of the Individual Communicators Network (ICN Detroit Chapter) and Detroit Press Club. 

Picture via PublicDomainPictures.net