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300,000 Not So Strong

The Mets’ 2011 promotional schedule seeped out quietly last Saturday morning, its highlights embedded in a press release [1]. Given that I look forward to knowing what swag the Mets will be introducing into the Metsopotamian ecosystem, I’d prefer a midweek prime time press conference live from the East Room of the White House and expect it covered on every network. Still, as far as I’m concerned, anytime is a good time to announce the coming of Magnetic Schedule Day, Lunch Box Day, Build-A-Bear Workshop Day and other days devoted to the distribution of Mets goodies.

Except the Mets aren’t having Magnetic Schedule Day, Lunch Box Day and Build-A-Bear Workshop Day…in fact, they’re cutting back on the goodies in general.

Thankfully, Collector’s Cup Night [2] remains in place.

It took the Mets longer than I’d like to say what they’d be giving away and when we could potentially sync it to our ticket plans. Not their ticket plans, but ours. The 5-, 11- and 17-Game Flex Packs [3] may offer flexual healing to some (each includes a bonus game), but others just want a series of what Randy at The Apple [4] invented last month: the 1-Game Flex Pack [5]. The Mets didn’t announce until the Grapefruit League schedule was underway that on March 14 you could buy one ticket to one game.

And that they’d be giving away in the course of the season MORE THAN 300,000 ITEMS!

You heard right…MORE THAN 300,000 ITEMS!

The 2011 Mets: Quantity, If Not Quality.

But not so fast there with the quantity, because even though the Mets’ release emphasized the giving away of MORE THAN 300,000 ITEMS! the truth is that’s a big comedown from the very recent past of 2010 and 2009, when there were nine more promotional dates apiece, thus more promotional items handed out (or sitting in boxes awaiting a loving Mets fan home). Last year’s release touted MORE THAN 400,000 ITEMS! [6] In 2008, in a different stadium, it was MORE THAN 500,000 ITEMS! [7]

I have to confess I hadn’t before noticed the Mets counted everything they were giving away. Then again, before this spring, there weren’t far bigger numbers being thrown around attached to stories regarding loans and lawsuits [8]. You probably don’t notice notations about total swaggage if stories aren’t appearing every day questioning your team’s ability to remain a viable big-market entity [9].

Yet you look at this promotional schedule and you can’t help but wonder if the Mets are heading if not geographically but figuratively to Pittsburgh…though that might not be fair.

The Pirates give out much better stuff [10]. So will most every team whose Web site I checked. However many hundreds of thousands of pieces will be moving doesn’t seem to be an issue for those clubs.

The 2011 Mets: Like Nobody Else.

What worries me as a fan of the New York Mets as an institution is not that they’ve scheduled far fewer giveaway dates (pending in-season additions, a couple of which usually surface) but that far fewer giveaways indicates fewer sponsors are dying to get in on the action of promoting the Mets. Not that visiting Citi Field isn’t like living inside a commercial already, but we’ve come to accept that there’s no such thing as “Helmet Day” per se anymore, that these babies are sponsored, and that somebody’s footing the bill because they see it as good business.

It seems fewer companies are looking to get their feet wet with Mets giveaways this season, or dip their toes too deeply in the Mets’ troubled waters, contaminated as their image might be by the circling financial sharks. And if such giveaway merchandise isn’t sponsored, it won’t be given away nor have a day to call its own.

The following brands were title sponsors to promotional dates in 2010 and will be again in 2011:

Budweiser, Caesars, Chevrolet, Citi, Delta, Dunkin’, Geico, Gold’s, Harrah’s, Lincoln, Nathan’s, Premio.

The following brands were title sponsors to promotional dates in 2010, but — according to the promotional schedule on mets.com [11] — won’t be in 2011:

Build-A-Bear, EmblemHealth, Goya, HealthPlus, Natural Balance, Pepsi, Subway, Toyota, United Healthcare, Verizon.

(Goya, HealthPlus and Natural Balance each sponsored events in 2010; the others sponsored merchandise.)

Only one promotional sponsor listed for 2011, Parts Authority, wasn’t a promotional sponsor in 2010. That represents, as of now, a net loss of nine promotional sponsors since last season.

Several of those companies not plastering logos on items remain Mets sponsors for the presumable long haul. There’s still a Pepsi Porch. There is still, as far as I know, a Verizon Studio. I haven’t heard that there won’t be a Subway sign off which Daniel Murphy can scrape a questionable home run [12]. Citi Field will likely still feel like the inside of a commercial. But the promotional schedule’s paucity (“300,000” notwithstanding) indicates a palpable inching away from the Mets in some sense. And other than Parts Authority, nobody new has stepped up to fill the giveaway void.

Is it really a void, though? Will we be, if you’ll excuse the laughable expression, suffering because we’ll have fewer opportunities to purchase tickets that will entitle us to a thing with a Mets — and a sponsor — logo? I don’t think I’ve ever had my ticket scanned at Citi Field and felt deprived because no giveaway was scheduled that day (being Fan No. 25,001 is a different matter). I’d rather there be a handful of really good ones than a load of “whatever” any year.

Are we getting closer to that ideal? Let’s take a look.

In 2010, the following was given out [13], one to a customer, generally to the first 25,000 customers, and the rough equivalent of the same will be given out again in 2011:

• An Opening Day premium
• A ski cap
• A plastic cup
• A gift card for use at a coffee & donuts chain
• A sports bag
• A beach towel
• Two caps
• A player bobblehead
• A drawstring bag
• A koozie (like a sweater for your beer container)
• A t-shirt

[14]Some of the names of the items — “winter hat” has replaced “ski cap” — have changed. No doubt colors, designs and themes are up for grabs, too. Last year there was a Mets Hall of Fame cap; this year there is no Hall of Fame Day, but there is a “Cap and Hot Dog Eating Contest,” which sounds like a lot to digest (do you have to eat your cap before or after downing your frank?) — but we’ll assume two caps will be given away. There’s no Home Run Apple Bank this Opening Day, but there will be a Mr. Met bobblehead, so the “wow!” factor is a welcome wash. A Jose Reyes banner (after the trading deadline, FYI) replaces the Johan Santana koozie as accompaniment to Fiesta Latina.

New for 2011 is a tote bag, previously a hardy perennial, back after a one-year hiatus.

Gone from 2010? No magnetic schedule for the first time since 1996; no scarf; no water bottle; no travel mug; no Build-A-Bear; no blanket, no umbrella…and no Wright Foam Finger, though that was an All-Star add-on to get us all to vote our third baseman onto the National League squad.

As far as sponsored events — besides the Hall of Fame commencing a new gap between inductions — there is no Senior Stroll on the schedule and no Hispanic Heritage Night (also, no Pepsi Refresh Night, though that was a late addition last year). Bark in the Park will be back, but without a pet food sponsor.

Pyrotechnics Night, an unsponsored blast in 2010, is not scheduled to explode in 2011. It’s not listed, at any rate.

Cap Trade, a Subway Series tradition, returns, as does the companion ritual of fans making up addresses and phone numbers in order to nab one of the 5,000 Mets caps Chevy will trade you in exchange for your contact information (along with, theoretically, an old cap, but they’re not sticklers about that part). I’ve always assumed the idealized spirit of Cap Trade taking place when the Mets play their crosstown rivals imagines people who don’t usually attend Mets games showing up to Shea/Citi and becoming so moved by the occasion and atmosphere that they will switch allegiances on the spot. “Take this horrid piece of junk with its loathsome NY and give me that shiny new number with the splendid NY on it!”

Great symbolism. Betting it doesn’t actually happen.

My 2011 takeaway on the substance of the 2011 giveaways:

• I look forward to Ike Davis Bobblehead Night in July and sincerely hope Ike cuts a less bland ceramic figure [15] than Jason Bay did last July.

• It’s great they’re enhancing Opening Day with Mr. Met. Opening Day would be plenty on its own.

• I’m sorry they’re skipping the Hall [16] this year. It took so long to revive, and there are dozens of worthy candidates populating Ultimate Mets Database [17] just clamoring for induction.

• My fridge will miss the magnetic schedule [18]. 2010 still graces its side and I’d like it to shift into the Alderson/Collins Era, lest Jerry Manuel wander into my kitchen and insert Mike Hessman for defense.

The rest of the reduced slate could be swell or it could be lousy. When the Mets make the images available, I might be tempted to buy a ticket I wasn’t otherwise planning on purchasing. For example, if the towel features a Sistine Chapel-like rendering of the ball going through Buckner’s legs, I’m totally there on Towel Night. At the moment, all I see is the word “Towel” on a night the Mets are playing the Phillies. I hope the subliminal message doesn’t concerning throwing in the towel at the mere sight of Cliff Lee. [19]

That there’s less slated than in past years bothers me from a State of the Franchise perspective more than a personal enrichment view. Last year’s blue and orange scarf will survive another windy April just fine, thank you. They can keep their Collector’s Cups and Cap Eating Contest. Give me a 1986 tribute (if not on the scale of what they did in 2006 [20], which was only five years ago, then at least a little something with heart). Give me a salute to an icon along the lines of what the Cardinals [21] are doing for Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial, the way the Dodgers [22] are doing something for Fernando Valenzuela, the way the Giants [23] are celebrating Willie Mays, the way the Royals [24] are acknowledging Buck O’Neil and Willie Wilson…the way the ever-imaginitive Athletics [25] are having not just Rickey Henderson Bobblehead Day but MC Hammer Bobblehead Day.

U can’t touch that. But U can try.

Props to the Mets for rolling out a raft of town and village nights and health awareness days and ethnic heritage nights and focused-interest theme dates every year. The Mets deserve credit for being aggressively community-minded and for supporting dozens of fine causes annually. Yay, as ever, to the Mr. Met Dash. Yay, even more, to 81 baseball games a year and winning as many of those as possible.

But would it kill them to produce a John Milner [26] bobblehead? It’s not like the A’s are the only ones who had a Hammer [27].

Do a few fun and clever giveaways and keep your…I won’t call it crap, because I’d gladly accept it, but don’t try to impress me with sheer volume — or making less sheer volume sound like more sheer volume than it really is.

I’d probably press the point further, but I actually feel a little guilty asking the Mets to go the extra 90 feet for me, the customer, considering the trouble ownership is trying to ward off. When Daddy’s laid off at the plant on December 16, you don’t hand him your Christmas list the minute he arrives home, y’know? The Mets aren’t Daddy and we’re not the kids, but I do worry for their well-being. I’d like to think they’re doing their best by us given the circumstances.

That I find myself thinking of the big-market, large-payroll Mets who play in a still fresh ballpark carved by caste in these terms saddens me quite a bit. They are in a big market and they do have a large payroll and I don’t expect the Acela Club windows to be boarded up, but that feels like no more than a matter of keeping up appearances. I didn’t like the sense they looked down their nose on me as a non-fancy customer, but it never occurred to me they would lack the resources to match their high-end attitude. It makes me want to tell them, “T-shirt night? You don’t have to give ME a t-shirt. I have plenty of t-shirts. Can I bring YOU a t-shirt? I’ve got a VAUGHN 42 around here somewhere I’m not using…”

The 2011 Mets:
Maybe It’s Not That Dire Yet.

Or maybe it is.

Jason and I look in-depth at how the Mets can burnish their 50-year legacy in the just-released 2011 Amazin’ Avenue Annual. That’s just one of about 50 reasons to read the damn thing. Order it here [28]. The 2011 Maple Street Press Mets Annual also includes contributions from each of us and a slew of really knowledgeable Mets writers. Order that one here [29]. Both should be available at retail in the New York area as well, but don’t put off getting a copy of each. They are incredibly well worth your time and money.