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Even This Strike Can’t Kill Baseball

Mon., Feb. 27, 1995

The nation’s largest sports research consultancy is about to release a white paper that will surprise you.

One of the report’s conclusions is that baseball, remarkably, will not be hurt much by its prolonged strike.

“Nothing can hurt the sport or the imagery of baseball,” said Nye Lavelle, president of the Sports Marketing Group in Dallas. “Whether it’s Little League, high school, minor league, or big-league, people still love baseball. You still hear people talk about it.”

Lavelle said his group’s research goes far beyond the typical telephone poll or man-on-the-street survey. It distributes packets with 20,000 questions (yes, 20,000) which take 14 to 20 hours to complete.

“We study attitudinal popularity. Polls are just a snapshot in time. We do a genetic mapping of all these sports. Instead of a snapshot, it’s more like an epic motion picture.”

Lavelle doesn’t want to steal his own thunder by prereleasing the juiciest statistics, but he acknowledges that the strike has left fans soured by the business side of baseball.

“When you don’t have that spirit of cooperation, people become alienated and turned off,” Lavelle said. “Look at our political system. Why did we throw out the Democrats in the election in November? It had nothing to do with people giving Newt Gingrich and Republicans a mandate. It was the old expression, `Throw the bums out.’

“Everybody was fed up with politics-as-usual. We just wanted to see a new team in there. When you look at baseball, they’re in that same quagmire. The American public is fed up with politicians, fed up with TV preachers, and fed up with people who control and have power.”

The public’s disgust includes owners and players alike.

“Ninety percent of the American people eat at McDonald’s and shop at K-mart,” Lavelle said, “and it’s hard for them to relate to people who are complaining about making $3 million to $6 million a year.”

And if players’ association boss Don Fehr hopes to appeal to the common man by portraying his members as downtrodden workers, he’s making a mistake.

“Why the hell do you need a union,” Lavelle said, “for a guy making a million dollars for sitting on the bench doing nothing, or $6 million for standing in right field?”

Clearly, Lavelle’s sentiments do not lie with the players.

“The so-called salary cap was never really a cap,” he said. “The owners wanted to share revenues. It wasn’t a cap, it was a salary increase. The players have been totally misled by this, and they will only hurt themselves.”

And yet, when the fight is finally over, Lavelle’s study suggests that fans will come back in droves.

“Why do people watch baseball? ” he said. “It’s not to see Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr.

“Our research shows that people go to a game or watch a game on TV or listen to it on the radio because of the ambience, the atmosphere, and all these positive-imagery attributes.

“These are things that are unique to baseball. This positive imagery is something that football doesn’t have, that basketball doesn’t have, and that hockey doesn’t have.”

In fact, Lavelle suspects that the strike might actually help baseball.

“It’s already the most affordable big-league sport,” he said. “And now, almost everybody is cutting ticket prices. They might get a lot of new fans from this.”

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