Ballpark Figures: Go Buy Some Peanuts And Coke And Stuff

Not all the pitches hurled near home plate this season came from the mound. Over the summer, the American League experimented with electronic billboard ads behind home plate, right where the TV cameras focused much of the time. Hard-core baseball purists were aesthetically outraged when they saw Coke blurbs framing the sluggers at the ballparks of the three teams that tried the medium: the Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, and Detroit Tigers.

But the teams aren't complaining. The Brewers and the Tigers, who used the new billboards the most, expect $1.5 million in extra revenue this year. That's a nice piece of change for them in a time of rising player salaries and, in some markets, declining gate receipts.

But from the TV networks' standpoint, this is a scary situation. The cost of flashing an ad at Tigers Stadium is about $1,800 for an average six-minute segment, compared with $5,000 for a 30-second local-TV spot. "This is like free advertising," grouses Susan Kerr, CBS Sports spokeswoman. CBS and ESPN have banned the home-plate ads--which can be changed electronically throughout the game--during nationally broadcast games.

ABC and NBC, which take over national televising of Major League Baseball from CBS next April, say they might be open to a deal that allows the billboards--provided they get a piece of the action.

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