Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Roosting Chickens and Houses of Cards - The HOF Class That Wasn't

It was announced today that no new members were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  ZERO.  75% of the ballot is needed for entry into the pantheon of baseball gods, and nobody got in.  Not Barry Bonds (36.2%).  Not Roger Clemens (37.6%).  Sammy Sosa, who hit over 600 home runs and has the most seasons with at least 60 home runs of anyone in history garnered…wait for it…12.5% of the vote.  The closest to make this year’s HOF class (the class that wasn’t) was Craig Biggio, appearing on 68.2% of the ballots.

This is the most recent, and certainly the most glaring line in the sand drawn against athletes who have at least been suspected of using performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). 

The chickens have come home to roost.  The house of cards has fallen in.  Make whatever comparison you wish.  What today’s announcement makes clear is that the governing and HOF voting bodies of sports ranging from cycling (Lance Armstrong) to Olympic sports (take your pick) to our nation’s pastime, will not tolerate PED’s…at least once they are done making everyone in the sport wealthier…er…participating.

It’s ironic that so many could turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to all of the evidence during the time in which Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire (also not even close to being elected) were chasing Roger Maris’s single season home run record, Bonds was chasing Hank Aaron’s all-time record, Armstrong was winning 7 straight Tour de France titles, etc.  In fact, many of those now trying to pretend those things never happened were at the forefront worshipping their feats of super-human strength or endurance.  Now that they are done hitting baseballs 575 feet or climbing the Pyrenees on a bike with the brake stuck to the rear wheel of their bike, they are deemed unworthy to hold the respect that their athletic accomplishments seemed to ensure.  Most ironic, to me at least, is that I am one of these people.

I did not want to miss an at bat when Slammin’ Sammy and Big Mac were laying waste to Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs in a season.  I actually TiVo’d each leg of the Tour de France, so I could watch Mr. Livestrong himself defy the odds of not just athletics, but of what cancer survivors could do…while wearing my own Livestrong bracelet the last couple of title years.  The list goes on and on, but the point is that just like so many others, I was completely drawn in by the performances themselves, and believed most of the explanations as to how it was possible without drugs to enhance them.  Lance just trained harder and smarter than anyone.  Mark McGwire took Creatine, but that’s legal, and I’m sure that was it.  Barry Bonds just got REALLY into weight lifting (which apparently can lead to a dramatic increase in the size of one’s cranium).

Sooner or later, the house of cards had to fall.  How long could we ignore all of the allegations against Lance?  How many times could we look at Barry’s Macy’s Day Parade noggin, while hearing whispers about BALCO, before we had to admit to ourselves that it was possible that it wasn’t just flax seed oil helping to flex 73 baseballs out of major league ballparks?  At some point, the evidence, whether it be empirical, anecdotal or just the eye test, would finally knock the rose colored glasses from our own noggins.  The sandcastles of awesomeness eventually washed away by the rising tide of affidavits and good ole’ common sense.

We believed because we wanted to believe.  Much like our childhood belief in a certain hefty present-giver that can magically travel, via reindeer, to every house in the world in one night, we wanted to believe so much that we ignored the obvious.  Who didn’t want to see Big Mac break the record?  The power was mind bending!    I personally saw Mark McGwire hit a home run in Cincinnati that I’m not sure has landed yet.  Major League Baseball sure didn’t seem to mind the fact that the home run ball reinvigorated a sport that was struggling to maintain its place in the upper echelon of sports.  Remember the campaign, “Chicks dig the long ball.”?  Likewise, the sport of cycling seemed to be OK with the drastic increase in ratings that Lance’s domination meant for Le Tour, especially in the U.S.  Now that the checks have been cashed, the denouncements have replaced the accolades.  The worst part is that, by and large, I agree with it.  At the very least, my knee jerk reaction is that I agree with today’s HOF vote.

So, why is an out of home/marketing guy taking the time to write about this in a blog read by about a dozen people?  Well, first of all, baseball is woven into the fabric of my family.  Our founder, Jerry Norton, was a baseball player, and baseball still provides a great deal of joy to 4 generations of Norton’s.  Secondly, I think there is a marketing lesson to be learned by the changing tides of this era.

The lesson to be learned is not new, but it bears repeating: You can only fool people for so long.  The new tablet might look really slick, but unless it really provides a solution to a perceived need, and does so better than its competition, it will be obsolete soon enough.  New Coke was advertised like crazy, and we know how that ended up (#marketingfiasco).  If you are too young to know the story about the Ford Pinto, Google it, or just go to this link:,28804,1658545_1658498_1657866,00.html
If people or brands want to be trusted in the long term, then they need to do more than appear to be great.  They need to really be able to deliver, with the only strings attached being visible.  The scrutiny placed on brands and celebrities alike has exponentially intensified in the age of social media.  Even false claims about a brand or an individual’s shortcomings can result in swift and significant changes in brand value.  Glory (or sales) achieved under false pretenses will be judged accordingly.  In the present climate, the judgments appear to be harsh. 

Mike Norton
Norton Outdoor Advertising