TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: There I was, watching the World Series last night, when a marketing gimmick interrupted a perfectly good ballgame:
Game announcer: "And with that stolen base, Jacoby Ellsbury just won America a free taco from Taco Bell."
But wait, there's more: Because seen those fans in the bleachers who hold up all those signs, right? Fox and Chevrolet have taken the art of the homemade banner one step further.
During game one Wednesday night, Fox cameras zoomed in on one such sign, with a superimposed digital image of the Chevy logo. Announcer Joe Buck, who you just heard, read the obligatory "this game brought to you by" message.
But here's the great part: The crowd shot was filmed last week. Chevy brought a couple of dozen extras into Fenway Park, filmed the scene with the sign, which Fox then spliced into the live broadcast Wednesday. But to you and me at home, it looked like just another sponsorship cutaway -- so don't believe everything you see, I guess.
Anyway, on the field last night, the Sox squeaked out a win. They lead the Series two-games-to-none now.
Commentator Glenn Rifkin says just like Chevy, the Red Sox have been polishing up their brand.
Rifkin: During the eighth inning of every Red Sox game at Fenway Park, 37,000 Sox fans join in a full-throated roar of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." The catchy anthem's been played at Fenway since 1998, but most Sox fans associate it with the team's World Series victory of 2004.
Oddly enough, 2004 changed the Red Sox brand. For Red Sox Nation, the eternal frustration at coming close but never winning had, over the decades, become a distinctive brand attribute. Loyalty to the Sox meant: "Wait 'til next year."
But then in 2004, the Red Sox, with their "Cowboy Up" mantra, dispatched the hated Yankees in a monster comeback, then swept the Cardinals in the World Series.
Eighty-six years of futility was erased, but a vexing new question emerged: How would winning impact the brand? Would fans who were loyal to futility switch that loyalty to success?
From a brand perspective, the answer has been a resounding yes -- and here's why:
Red Sox ownership viscerally understands the rituals and traditions that have long been the bedrock of the brand. They kept the team in Fenway Park, that baseball shrine, and remade it into the crown jewel of ballparks.
They put a winning product on the field every season. They celebrate the colorful players, from long-haired Johnny Damon in '04, to Riverdancing Jonathan Papelbon this season.
They even brought back Kevin Millar, mister "Cowboy Up" himself from the 2004 squad, to throw out the first pitch before game seven in the ALCS. And they've expanded their New England fan base to become baseball's top-drawing road team and a ratings bonanza for post season broadcasts.
Despite grumbling that the Red Sox are beginning to emulate Steinbrenner's Yankees, the brand has retained its cachet, not unlike the Grateful Dead or Harley-Davidson with their huge communities of devoted fans.
In a brand sense, the Sox have become the Mac of baseball to the Yankees' PC. The brand may have been born from futility, but success has made the good times better than ever.