With Kansas City coming off two back-to-back World Series appearances, baseball fervor in the Midwestern market this weekend is higher than usual for the hometown Royal's opening game on Sunday. To engage with such spirit, Kansas City ad agency VML created a baseball embedded with a computer chip as a digital memento that is also a nonprofit campaign.
To support the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy—an organization that gives kids access to education and career resources—VML worked with the city's Mayor Sly James and a few members of Kansas City's board on urban youth academy to create a pro bono campaign that kicks off during the Royals' ballgame Sunday night against the New York Mets.
That evening, 2,500 folks are forming a single-file line that snakes through Union Station and downtown to Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, in the shape of the team's crown logo. Each person in line is making a donation for at least $1 to the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy and will pass the smart baseball to the person next to them until it ends up at the stadium to be used for the game's ceremonial first pitch.
A website lets those not attending the event add 140-character messages to the ball—for instance, about what baseball means to them or well wishes for a good cause—in exchange for making a $1 or more donation to the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy.
According to Tony Snethen, VML's executive creative director, the computer chip is capable of storing 100,000 to 200,000 pieces of text.
"It will be stored inside this baseball forever—we're looking at it like a digital, physical time capsule," Snethen said.
To create the baseball, VML tore open and carved out dozens of balls to find the right method to fit the computer chip inside while also keeping the ball's original shape and weight. The agency even worked with a local leather company called Sandlot Goods to make sure the laces were stitched properly.
According to Snethen, the smart baseball is four grams (or roughly .14 ounces) heavier than the average baseball that weighs five to five-and-a-quarter ounces.
After the game, the ball will be put on display at the Royals' Hall of Fame inside Kauffman Stadium. Using Wi-Fi, anyone at the museum can look at the messages stored in the ball on a smartphone.
"Our hope is that while this was a Kansas City-focused thing, that we're going to reach people all over the globe to take part in this," Snethen said. "There are balls out there that track activity—like a basketball will track how many dribbles and movement—but we searched high and low and couldn't find anything that was more message-based. This is not necessarily an activity tracker, it's more of immortalizing messages in time, and we wanted it to be historical."