Fox’s Wild Pitch

AOL’s Running Man has come a long way since BBDO (with genius technical help from Rhythm & Hues) rushed him into 3-D form last March for a hastily assembled Oscars ad. These days the intrepid Internet icon is an action hero in spots for AOL 9.0 Optimized. And it turns out he’s a pretty good baseball player, too—pitching, batting and sliding his way through in-game replay clips during Fox’s World Series broadcasts. No wonder he was quick to hop out of Sharon Stone’s bed. He was late for spring training.

Still, he had a hard time standing out during the Series, mainly because Fox decided to hand out in-game sponsorships like Halloween candy. Among the non-AOL features presented during the broadcasts:

The Pepsi/Taco Bell Think Outside the Park II contest. (This tired promotion, promising a free taco and a Pepsi to all Americans in the event that any player managed to hit a small target in left field, was a gratuitous follow-up to similar stunts from past years: one involving Barry Bonds and a floating target in San Francisco Bay, the other involving the falling Mir space station and a floating target in the Pacific Ocean.)

The MasterCard Trivia Question.

The John Hancock Game Summary.

The Sprint Virtual Manager poll. (Not a bad feature during the regular season, but for the World Series, Fox had Joe Buck call various celebrities and ask for their answers when he should have been focusing on the game.)

The AT&T Wireless In-Game Box Score.

The Pepsi Fan Cam. (Not particularly irritating until it lingered on Yanni.)

The Allstate Good Hands Defensive Play of the Game.

It was out of control, like a Mark Wohlers fastball circa 1999. And to make matters worse, Fox time and again came up and inside with its own promos. That wasn’t David Cassidy delivering a strained rendition of “God Bless America”; that was David “soon to be seen on Malcom in the Middle” Cassidy. For the Virtual Manager poll, Buck didn’t get to ask Al Leiter his opinion on the hardest-throwing pitcher in history; he had to ask Simon Cowell of American Idol. (“What does he know?! He’s English!” came the cry from the bar.)

And when was the last time you watched a baseball game on Fox and didn’t see the cast of 24 or That ’70s Show sitting down the third-base line?

The digital billboards behind home plate, which once seemed so tacky and intrusive, are becoming almost quaint next to these incessant plugs. What’s next? The Red Lobster Catch of the Day? First base, brought to you by First USA? The Budweiser Drunken-Fan Cam? The Charmin Squeeze Play of the Series? SpongeBob SquarePants running the bases?

Media buyers have been complaining lately about in-game-advertising restrictions imposed by other professional sports leagues, notably the National Football League. The argument is that the pods during commercial breaks are so cluttered that sponsors are unable to distinguish themselves. But if the deals struck by Major League Baseball, Fox and its advertisers are an indication, the in-game space can get just as crowded.

Besides, do these coveted (and expensive) in-game mentions really trump good old-fashioned 30-second spots? The biggest response I saw from twentysomething sports fans last week was to Bud Light’s hilarious “Real Men of Genius” toupee spot. You can get guys out with curveballs, but sometimes it’s good to throw the heat.

Bud Selig likes to stick his nose where it isn’t wanted. Maybe he could sort out this mess. Is this Bud for you?