By Barry Janoff
March 30, 2016: Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench loves baseball. But he's pissed off over the modern version of Opening Day.
And he will tell you so in words and song in a new guerrilla marketing campaign from Kingsford Charcoal, "Take Back Opening Day," which has created a petition asking the "powers that be to bring back the real Opening Day: 30 teams playing in 15 cities on one glorious afternoon."
MLB 2016 Opening Day covers three days and two nights — April 3-5 — with games on ESPN, ESPN 2 and MLB Network.
Kingsford's distress: "This year, with an eye clearly fixed on television ratings and revenue, Opening Day has become Opening Days. Three days to be exact, with eight teams debuting on Sunday, 20 on Monday and two more on Tuesday."
"We love baseball on TV — the more the better," Matt Gregory, general manager for Kingsford Charcoal, said in a statement. "But Opening Day is special. It's about family and friends coming together, savoring a special afternoon — and, yes, maybe firing up the grill."
According to Gregory, "With these changes, we've lost the tradition of an entire nation coming together. We are asking for it back. And offering some amazing 'Que if the league takes us up on it."
Not surprisingly, Kingsford Charcoal, a division of The Clorox Co., is not an official partner with MLB.
With the help of Bench, Kingsford has created a petition for people to sign, which would then be forwarded to MLB "in hopes that they will restore tradition and bring back Opening Day — 30 teams playing in 15 cities on one glorious afternoon — for the 2017 season."
The petition is being hosted on Change.org.
The campaign is far from altruistic. In return, Kingsford said that if baseball "steps up and goes back to the traditional" Opening Day, it would "delight the local fans by doing what it does best: Hosting Opening Day BBQs in all 15 cities next year."
Bench, who played his entire 17-year MLB career with the Cincinnati Reds, appears as an irate fan in a series of Take Back Opening Day spots.
In "Anger," he states, "Bring back Opening Day games! What the hell have they done!? Opening nights?! That's so totally whacked! Cut the crap and bring Opening Day back. Mute. Mute. Mute. Text. Tweet. Post. SCREAM!"
In "Sadness," he sings to the tune of "Take Me Out To The BallGame," "Take me out to a day game, sit me down in a crowd. Soak up some sun, hear the crack of the bat. All I want is my Opening Day back. Guess it's moot, moot, moot to dream this dream. The world's moved on — who's to blame? Guess it's time to turn on the lights. Baseball's just not the same. Tradition got screwed. That's so lame. One, two, three days . . . or nights. That's not Opening Day."
He then drops his bat and storms off the set.
And in "Disgust," also sung to the tune of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," he shares his anger about why things have changed. "Opening Games at night on TV and the price that is being paid. Stay glued to your TV, if you look away they're not paid. They want one? Two? Three times the bank? On this Opening Day!"
"There's just nothing better than getting together with friends, firing up the grill and celebrating the start of baseball season — whether you're at the stadium parking lot or your own backyard," Bench said in a statement. "Nationally televised night games are great for the sport, but Opening Day is special — it's tradition, and you don't mess with tradition."
Suffice to say, although seemingly done tongue-in-cheek, this campaign does not reflect the same Opening Day-related campaign tone as the one in 2014 when Anheuser-Busch brand Budweiser lead an effort to "Make Opening Day a National Holiday."
That effort also was led by a Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals), whose presence helped get more than 100,000 people to sign a petition.
"There's no denying the passion that baseball fans have for America's national pastime," said Smith at the time. "The more than 100,000 people who signed the petition are just a fraction of the 1.3 million who will attend Opening Day games this year. The day is already an unofficial holiday, but now it's time to make it official."
Although President Obama acknowledged the importance of the occasion, Opening Day remains an unofficial day.
This is not Kingsford's first attempt to take on a sports power.
Last year, Kingsford, admonished the NCAA during March Madness over the issue of paying college student-athletes, putting on its bag of The Original charcoal an image of Ed O'Bannon, a former student-athlete at UCLA who has been at the forefront of seeking to have college athletes paid for the use of their images in efforts that reward the NCAA.
"Kingsford Charcoal has become one of the many companies to use the likeness of a famous amateur basketball player for marketing purposes during that mad, mad month of March," said in a statement during that effort. "Kingsford is just adding a surprising twist: the charcoal brand is actually going to pay that player — Ed O'Bannon — for placing him on the front of a limited (edition) bag of charcoal."
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