On MLB Sports Net spots

Where am I?” the old man sputters as he coughs his way back to life. “You’re in a hospital, Dad,” his son says, his voice catching with emotion. “You’re gonna be all right.”

Suddenly the scene is hopeful. But this is, after all, a Fox Sports Net spot, so the inevitable happens.

A TV beeps, alerting the son to the Major League Baseball game coming up that night. (It’s the very promo that we see within this spot.) “This one should be good,” the younger man says, getting so worked up about the prospect of the game that he leaves the room. “Son!” yelps Dad, lying helplessly in the bed. “You’re gonna be OK,” the son says as the door slams in his newly conscious father’s face.

After the local super for that night’s game appears, a tagline says, “Nothing else matters.”

I get that it’s intentionally out there and over the top to demonstrate the sheer intensity (or level of co-dependency) the average viewer feels for his team. But the whole coma thing is not particularly fresh or surprising. The setting—the hospital room, the beepers, the old guy hooked up to tubes who suddenly comes back—is getting so familiar that it’s like the Polish joke of advertising, Henny Youngman for the cable age. Ba-dum.

The campaign comes from Fox Sports Net’s longtime agency, Cliff Freeman and Partners, which over the years has created some brilliantly dark comic advertising. The agency is the master of the unexpected, satirical mean/ funny form. But it has lost the spark in these spots—even the tastelessness seems derivative. It’s time for everyone to move on.

Say you fail to see how jokes about abandoning the old and infirm are funny. How about the spot that shows a champion skier with broken legs? He’s learning to walk again with his physical therapist—till the therapist gets the game alert and leaves the poor guy hanging in agony on his braced limbs, holding on to handrails as his legs crumble.

Can you really take offense at something so obviously outlandish and broad? The New York Post’s Phil Mushnick did. He wrote that the promos are designed for “cheap, cruel laughs.” I agree.

These spots sure do play into the Mars/Venus split. In one, a couple sit on their couch and she’s waving a conception indicator, saying, “So if it’s blue, we’re pregnant.” Nervous, she hands it to her hubby. He protests and tries to give it back, but she begs him, and just as he starts looking at it, he sees the promo. “The Mets will kill ’em!” he says. He hands the thing back as though he’s passing the salt. This woman has had fair warning: If your guy is this much of a fanatic, then take this behavior seriously and run!

The spot that is the most troubling, no matter how many excuses you want to make for sheer dumb fun, concerns adoption. An Asian boy is eating dinner with his white parents. “So, Matt, how was school today?” Mom asks. The kid’s plaintive response is, “Dad, what does ‘adopted’ mean?” He pauses thoughtfully and is about to speak when he hears the promo ping and is transported, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, to the boys-of-summer world. “Dad?” the kid says. “Yeah, don’t worry about it,” the otherwise-engaged father responds.

I thought that these days, the subject of adoption no longer carried the silent stigma it did in the 1950s. It’s ridiculous to think the kid would not know. While the spot is hard to take seriously, it still should be pulled, just in case it restigmatizes the issue for any kids watching.

Cliff Freeman actually won the Grand Prix at Cannes two years ago for a Fox Sports Net campaign that showed ridiculous made-up sports from foreign countries, like face-slapping in Russia and cliff-diving in Turkey, to show that the sports we’re interested in are local. Granted, it was xenophoic and used mean physical humor—the cliff diver went splat—but it was also original and funny.

And a few years back, the agency used a strategy similar to these new baseball spots in a series of Foxsports.com ads about men zoning out on any grown-up responsibility while obsessively scanning the Web site (one guy lets his grandfather fall off his walker). The spots came in the form of public service announcements, suggesting the guys were heroes, and the parody of the PSA form added a level of cleverness. The only vaguely smart touch in this campaign is that we and the demented fan see the same promo at the same time.

Are the spots perhaps doing everyone a service by making fun of the fact that these types are living in their own weird, closed-off world of sports obsession, thereby neglecting their jobs and their families, and that this has to stop? In light of the extremes exhibited here, is Fox Sports Net showing that these guys should, for the first time, see their baseball fanaticism as sick and unhealthy, the way others see them? In our dreams.