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SABR 44 Day Two Research Presentations

Went to three fascinating research presentations today at the SABR convention. Today’s topics I chose to attend were ballpark advertising and how it relates to branding, the influx of Cuban defectors, and William Hulbert. Presented respectively by the son and grandson of a former major leaguer, the current English-language expert on Cuban baseball, and one of SABR’s leading economists with multiple publications in the Baseball Research Journal.

Also today were the 1980 Astros panel, the Women in Baseball panel, the Media panel, and the trivia contest finals. Trivia gets more and more entertaining every year: they really have it down pat these days and the answers are just as entertaining for the audience as the questions are for the contestants.

Here’s the official description of the first presentation I went to:

RP16: The Ballpark Sportscape: Outfield Advertising and the Branding Issue
Ed Mayo, Dobb Mayo and John Weitzel
Major League Baseball stadiums are special places. An MLB team markets an experience that takes place just 81 times a year, and the ballpark where it does this is crucial to the creation of the team’s brand. Memorable ballpark experiences are created by appealing to all five senses, but sports facility researchers have paid little attention to the sensory components of the fan experience. Mayo, Mayo and Weitzel focus on the visual component of the fan experience at MLB ballparks — and, specifically, on outfield advertising signage. Do visitors feel comfortable? Does the stadium’s aesthetics promote social interaction among fans sitting alongside each other? Does the amount of stadium advertising contribute to a stadium’s gestalt — to the overall feeling that a fan experiences while sitting in the stadium for three hours?

Ed Mayo ( is Emeritus Professor of Marketing at Western Michigan University, and he presently serves as a Visiting Faculty member at the University of Notre Dame. At WMU, he was the founding director of the University’s Sports Marketing program. After stepping away from the classroom in 2001, Ed worked for two years with the ownership group of the Albany Diamond Dogs and co-founded SunCoast Sports, which provided website development and marketing planning and research services for other minor league baseball and hockey organizations. Ed’s baseball bloodlines can be traced to The Sporting News American League MVP in 1945, Detroit Tigers second baseman Eddie Mayo; and to his maternal grandfather, the owner of the Brooklyn franchises in three outlaw professional leagues (the Atlantic, Union, and United) in the early 1900s.

Dobb Mayo ( is currently a systems architect at the boutique advertising agency Gazillion & One, in the lakeside community of Grand Haven, Michigan. Dobb has been in and around the sports marketing industry for more than 14 years, working with top sports and entertainment companies such as Topps, CART, World Wrestling Entertainment, and a number of minor league sports teams.   Additionally, he worked in the front office of the Albany Diamond Dogs baseball club and was the Chief Operating Officer of SunCoast Baseball. He is a vintage base ball player, as well as the grandson of former Tigers second baseman Eddie Mayo.

John Weitzel serves on the marketing faculty at Western Michigan University, where he teaches advertising and directs the University’s Sports Marketing program. Prior to joining the WMU faculty in 2001, John spent 26 years in the advertising agency business. He co-founded the J.W. Messner agency in Grand Rapids, which surpassed $110 million in billings while John served as Executive Vice President. In 1999, John joined GMR*Works, an events and promotions firm exclusively dedicated to serving General Motors at the regional level. With degrees from Kent State and the University of Washington, John has served as a consultant and principal with firms in the retail grocery, music production, and minor league baseball industries.

Mayo presented the point that the ballpark is a psychological home. Like a living room it should follow the principles of interior design, regarding color, focal point, etc. I couldn’t quite hear well enough where I was first sitting so I had to move partway through and I missed whether they polled interior designers about the stadiums or how exactly they came up with the following ranking:

1. Dodger Stadium
2. Fenway
3. PNC
4. Coors
5. Nationals
(missed 6 and 7)
8. Yankees

They showed some images of ballparks then as examples of good and bad design, and things which add to or detract from the fan experience. For example Globe Life Ballpark in Arlington has some problems like signs don’t pass the squint test, too much signage, and too many focal points. PNC Park is much better: the cityscape is the focus, that mitigates the advertising.

There is a three-way relationship between fans, sponsors, and teams. Fans and teams each provide each other with something. Teams and sponsors each provide each other with something. The only relationship that isn’t mutual is that sponsors don’t give anything to the fans.

Ivy covered walls are considered part of the image of the Cubs.

The Green Monster is considered a focal point of the Red Sox brand. When they run tours for kids at the park the first thing they do is run out and touch the wall. It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Boston. “Advertising” on the Green Monster is more like a sponsor name, more like a PBS underwriter sponsorship than a commercial. But Fenway is a bit of Tale of Two Ballparks: right field is cluttered with signs and sponsorships. (Note to self: whatever happened to the Hood milk bottle? Is it gone?)

Citi Field: what does all that signage say about the Mets brand? (The signs are HUGE and numerous.) Let’s leave that as a rhetorical question.

New Yankee Stadium: the giant video board is one huge focal point. In the old old Stadium the Monuments on the field were so visible and so were the people in front of them, DiMaggio etc. The Yankees’ history is part of their brand. Yet now Monument Park is almost hidden away, you can barely see it, so they’ve replaced it with the flags in the Great Hall. It would be even better if they replaced all the ads on the outfield walls with retired numbers and silhouettes like ones the Cardinals and some other teams have.

Dodger Stadium: very PBS oriented, all same color scheme, originally the builder wanted no ads at all!

The Most Important Rule: The game is not the product: the fan experience is the product.
Wrigley Rule: the outfield fence is part of the playing field and shouldn’t have ads on it.
Fenway Park Rule: if there is advertising it should be in a common color/design, unified look.
PBS Rule: The best ballpark advertising is not advertising.
The Anti-Accounting Rule: Don’t let accountants be in charge of the ballpark’s look and feel.
The Progressive Rule: The scoreboard shouldn’t be an ad platform.
The Citi Rule: The ballpark should not be a place for an advertising arms race.


RP17: The Cuban Baseball “Defectors” – An Insider’s Full Revelations on the True “Inside” Story
by Peter C. Bjarkman
Based on nearly two decades of unprecedented access to the Cuban baseball scene, Bjarkman reveals for the first time unpublished and heretofore unavailable insider accounts of the unembellished facts surrounding the “defection” sagas of a recent wave of MLB-impact Cuban League refugees. Based on his extensive experiences at international tournaments (including unparalleled access to the Cuban locker room and to Cuban ballplayers’ hotel rooms), extensive interviews and personal conversations with top Cuban national team stars both at home and on the road since the mid-1990s, and lengthy and numerous interviews with Cuban baseball authorities — including two recent Cuban League commissioners, Cuban security personal and Cuban sports ministry VP Tony Castro (former national team surgeon and son of Fidel Castro), Bjarkman answers a wide range of questions and provides insights into mysteries of the Cuban baseball “defections.”
Peter C. Bjarkman ( is the Senior Baseball Writer at (Peter will post the full text on the Baseball de Cuba website since he couldn’t fit it ALL into the presentation. Look for it this week when he gets back from the convention.)

All of this is paraphrased or transcribed from Peter’s comments:
There’s probably no bigger story this year than the Cuba phenomenon, between the rookie month of Yasiel Puig where he came within 4 hits of DiMaggio’s rookie first month record, and this year Abreu’s debut with a 20-game hitting streak and 38 out of the 39 games, and the yesterday there’s Cespedes, the two-time HR derby champ, in the middle of the trade. Abreu even has a shot at Ted Williams’ rookie RBI record and the McGwire rookie home run record. McGwire set that record in 1987. Abreu was BORN in 1987.

There were 16 Cubans on opening day rosters this season. There are a few who were born in Cuba who left there when very young but didn’t play there, but 13 or 14 right now are “defectors” who played in the Cuban League.

Five Cubans were in the All Star game this year, the most since the 1980s when there was a game with 6.

Are there 20 or 30 more Jose Abreus out there? Well, the talent pool is getting thinned out on the island. Over 75 of them have actually come over but many haven’t made it out of the minors, and it’s draining off the talent from the league. The Cuban national team has had a lot of problems since the 2006 peak. And now there’s not only the lure of the big money, but also as the league’s challenge is diminished and the national team is not dominant, the players are not legends at home like they used to be… those are among the reasons they leave.

But the phenomenon isn’t over, either. (He names off several very talented players who are either still there or who are held up in Haiti with visa problems.) You’re going to hear more from these guys in the next couple of years.

Probably nothing brought more to the attention of the fans than the controversy surrounding Yasiel Puig and his travails going through Mexico to get to the US. It was all exposed in a May article in Los Angeles magazine. Puig was aided by a drug cartel in Mexico who smuggled him out of Cuba, but then he and his family were suddenly asked to pay four times what the original price was and held for ransom, essentially. They could see the multi-millions he might earn and wanted a piece. Then a drug cartel in Miami kidnapped him from the original kidnappers! There are rumors there’s still a price on his head. There are other similar stories surfacing now regarding other players and drug cartels.

This is human trafficking If you want to look at it from a certain angle, MLB turning a blind eye to this human trafficking borders on condoning it.

183 Cubans have played in MLB total, about 50 since the 1990s, 39 of which were defectors from the Cuban League.

This wave began with Rene Arocha who defected in 1991 and by 1993 was in MLB. He walked away from a friendly exhibition in Tennessee. Barbaro Garbey had preceded him, but his case was a bit different. Garbey had been imprisoned and banned from Cuban baseball for game fixing, and when Castro cleaned out the prisons he came to the US in the Mariel Boat Lift. Given that he had been convicted of game fixing it was odd that MLB let him play. But really Arocha was the one who started the modern defection phenomenon.

Rolando Arrojo jumped right before the 1996 Olympics. He was soon followed by El Duque, Jose Contreras, and others.

The recent wave began because Aroldis Chapman then made a big splash because of the amount of money he got. Even though he can throw over 100 mph, he wasn’t considered the best pitcher in Cuba, but he got $30 million in January 2010. (His defection came in Netherlands.) Since Chapman, here are some of the others who have signed for big money:

Jose Abreu October 2013 $68 million
Yasiel Puig June 2012 $42 million
Yoenis Cespedes February 2012 $36 million

Last September came the announcement by the Cuban national ministry they were changing their policies. They would first of all try to up salaries within their own league to try to cut down the flow outside of Cuba. They were paid as licensed athletes, about equal to $40 a month. The regular Cuban peso will be used to pay them 1000 pesos a month plus more if they played on the National Team. By Cuban standards it’s not bad but it’s laughable compared to what they can make in MLB. But the big big news was they will allow some of their players to play outside of Cuba in other leagues. It would be arranged by the national sports ministry, and they would only probably be doing it as a reward for their service. The government would keep 80% of their salary and the player would get 20%. They need the money to fund the league. They don’t have ticket sales revenue, they don’t have TV income or anything. They need to improve playing conditions and fields there and so forth. The rule also says that the players must come back and play in the Cuban league in the offseason. You know that MLB is not going to allow that.

The other problem is that the money that was released by MLB to players is held by the Helms-Burton embargo. (This happened with the money they should have received for playing in the World Baseball Classic.) So there’s no chance that the Cuban players can do anything with US major leagues, but they did send three players last year to a Mexican league. This worked well for the Cubans because then those players can’t sign with MLB without violating the agreements between MLB and the Japanese leagues and Mexican leagues. But MLB reminded the Mexican league about a loophole regarding residency. Alfredo Despaigne was then given a fake Dominican passport, but when it was exposed he was banned from the Mexican league. Now he’s in Japan instead. Two other players are in Japan also: Frederich Cepeda signed with Yomiuri Giants for $900,000.

The question is what can be done. Unfortunately, look at the history of the Negro Leagues. No one wants to set the clock back. Do not think that the MLB shouldn’t have integrated! But there had been institutions built around the Negro Leagues, other businesses, plus employment for hundreds of players, but once black players started going into the major leagues, those Negro League teams and leagues started to fold. Their jobs and leagues disappeared, businesses collapsed, and those communities collapsed. Look how the heart was taken out of the black neighborhoods in Kansas City and places like that. The Cuban League is special. Only Cubans play there. It’s the only thing to do in many cities in Cuba, it’s the only entertainment, and it’s huge. They’re trying to keep the door closed but it’s not going to last.

MLB could change their policy and let the Cuban players come directly to the US shores, get a US passport, and sign. If they did that, the players would have to go into the regular draft with the college players where the bonuses and signing amounts are capped. The Cuban players and their agents would prefer to go to third party residency so they can avoid that. That would evaporate if MLB would allow them to go into the draft. That would protect the players from the drug cartels and would help preserve the integrity of the Cuban League since the temptation to defect would not be so great.


RP20: William Hulbert and the Birth of the Business of Professional Baseball
by Michael Haupert
Hall of Famer William Ambrose Hulbert was president of the Chicago White Stockings, founder of the National League, and its second president. At the time of his premature death in 1882 he had revolutionized the business and the game of baseball. His impact on the organization of professional sports leagues has endured to this day. Haupert tells the story of William Hulbert as the story of the evolution of the American business organization. Hulbert employed fundamental business principles to create the National League, which replaced the National Association, the first professional sports league in America. Through the discovery of primary documents, including letters, league minutes, and financial records Haupert describes several previously unknown facts concerning Hulbert’s life and work, and will correct many inaccuracies that have been repeated over the past century.
Mike Haupert ( is a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he combines his passion with his profession, and studies the economics of baseball. He has published extensively on the economics of professional sports, especially the labor history of baseball. Over the past decade, he has spent hundreds of hours working in the archives of various libraries to construct a database of player contracts from league and team financial records. He has presented his research at numerous conferences and seminars. He also shares results from his research in the newsletter of the SABR Business of Baseball Committee, which he co-chairs with Steve Weingarden.

I learned a ton about William Hulbert from this presentation, most of which I did not previously know.

Hulbert only lived to be 50. But shortly before his death, the National League published a resolution, writing that “We will honor his name and ever cherish his memory” 1882. Michael notes that he doesn’t actually know of anything the NL did honoring him. (They did eventually put a stone baseball on his grave site, but nothing else he knows of.) Abraham Mills also wrote that Hulbert deserved to be honored. So why was Hulbert essentially ignored by, for example, the Hall of Fame, who inducted so many other executives before getting around to inducting Hulbert 113 years after his death? He was even from Burlington Flats, NY, not far from Cooperstown.

Hulbert was a stockholder in the Chicago White Stockings in 1870. Chicago was a bustling metropolis at that point but was considered an outpost by the people on the East Coast. Businessmen in Chicago saw the attention that the 1869 Red Stockings had gotten (though probably not the balance sheets showing that they lost money), and so to broadcast the idea of Chicago as a worthwhile city, they started the White Stockings. In 1871 they joined the National Association. Hulbert at the time was just a stockholder, but he was a successful businessman.

In 1871, though, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the ballpark, their uniforms, and most of their houses. The White Sox had to borrow uniforms from other teams. Then they didn’t field a team the next two years and yet… they turned a profit ! How? (Leasing a ballpark to others.) Hulbert is named to the board of directors. He sees potential in baseball as an industry but sees that the current mode they have is not going to work. The National Association had some very obvious problems.

drunkenness — both in the stands and on the field
gambling — signs posted “Do not take what takes place on the field as real”
teams not finishing their schedule, not bothering to show up for Western team game
low entry fees ($10) and player run cooperatives, sloppy business

Hulbert sees the demand building up for baseball and knows they need to take advantage of the fact that working hours were going down and earning was going up. Urbanization is taking place, public transit and infrastructure help, the time is ripe.

Hulbert holds two meetings then with potential owners: the Western Meeting and the Eastern Meeting.
“The Western Meeting” was held in Louisville, December 1875. Hulbert comes up with the idea that 8 teams in a league is the right number and when he speaks to the Western owners, he places an emphasis on the slighting of western teams by their eastern counterparts. Eastern clubs often ignored final trips west, and they were known to sign away the best western players to come east. He blames the problems of the western team owners on eastern big cities. He sells them on the fact they were being mistreated and it was time for equal footing. They send him off to New York.

The Eastern Meeting
Hulbert sings a different tune to the Easter owners, painting a picture of:
-geographic exclusivity
-prominence of premier league
-potential of monopsony labor market
-promise of monopoly profits
He sells the Eastern teams on a form of elitism, the best quality product. “Everyone understands monopoly means cha-ching!” And something only economists understand: monopsony, which means controlling the input to the business as well as the output.

Fundamental changes:
-end of revolving
-zero tolerance for gambling and hippdroming
-No Sunday games
-No drunken or rowdy behavior allowed… anywhere

(Hippodroming: taking money in exchange for poor play to throw a game to the opposition.)

Exclusion of Sunday was a moral stance that really helped with the elimination of drunkenness.

Business changes:
-separation of management and labor: no cooperatives
-no small towns: had to have a minimum of 100,000 population
-one team per city
-increased admission fee (to 50 cents, to eliminate the low class element)
-expulsion for violating constitution

reserve clause
uniform deposit
standard contract
daily board fee
eliminating competing leagues
separate management and players

Hulbert wanted National League baseball to appeal to a higher class of people, and appeal to a wider class of people, including women, children, and families. Hulbert does the same thing they did in vaudeville: raising the prices and eliminating rowdies. The NA had some of the same rules but no one had been enforcing it. Hulbert convinces the board to evict both New York and Philadelphia out of the league at the end of the first year because otherwise how to enforce the rules? Both teams skipped out on the end of their seasons. The hard line continued: Louisville Four in 1879 — four players banned for life, caused the collapse of both Louisville and St. Louis. He also evicts Cincinnati in 1880 for serving alcohol and leasing their park on Sundays to others.

League innovations:
Territorial exclusivity
Fixed schedule
Uniform contracts
Roster of umpires — no longer hired by the home team
Reserve clause — not Hulbert’s idea, but he was already hinting at it back in 1870

The fixed schedule begets the pocket program which begets advertising revenue.

Competing league:
International Association 1877-1880
-league alliance
-restrict exhibition games to conditions favoring the NL
The league would guarantee you a certain number of exhibitions, etc. with terms strictly favoring the NL but “you need us more than we need you.”

Once he’s a majority owner of the White Stockings he introduces some other concepts:
-free tickets for the press
-new ballpark as a revenue source, makes it a skating rink in the winter
-winning team created by signing stars, Anson, Spalding, White
Fan friendly stadium — seat cushions, “luxury boxes” “atmosphere of a genteel woman”

The Hulbert Legacy:
all four of our major leagues (NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB) are all organized on the principles laid out by Hulbert
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995

What followed that was the fascinating question and answer about the symbiosis between train companies and ball teams/stadiums. One asked, with Hulbert dying so young, would he have resisted some of the changes that then came, beer sales, Sunday ball, letting teams in the league with cities under 100,000? You have to assume he would have resisted them but seems like most would eventually have come around.

As for why Hulbert wasn’t better recognized after his death as the artchitect of the National League? That may have been Hulbert’s own design. Hulbert was the real power behind the league, so he set up Morgan Bulkeley from Hartford as the first president of the N.L. Bulkeley was inducted much earlier! But at the time we know from letters and other evidence that it was widely known that Hulbert was the real decision maker in the league.

That’s it for today. I have blogs and transcripts of the Women in Baseball and Media panels but I am way too sleepy right now to type those up! Later!

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