Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Twenty years ago, in The San Diego Union, I wrote a column (you can go back and find it) about advertising and baseball games on television.

I foresaw the day when advertising would be woven into the thread of play, with various parts of the action, like innings, leadoff hitters, balls, strikes, base hits and pitching changes, sponsored by an advertiser. It was a whimsical column, tongue-in-cheek, commenting on the eagerness of television advertisers meeting their match in the staid, conservative traditions of Major League  Baseball, the grand old game, the national pastime.

I was reminded of that column the other night when the Giants, being raked by the Padres, made a pitching change, which was sponsored by Jiffy Lube. If I wanted to take notes, I could watch a few complete baseball games and provide a list of game situations that, in 2005, do in fact have sponsors, with whom the institution has found rapport and revenue stream (baseball owners think about money a lot) within the boundaries of tradition.

That tradition is also the property of the fans, and that is important. You may remember an incident from a couple of years ago that is illustrative of the public’s direct contribution to baseball tradition. That was the situation where a deal was actually struck that would permit sponsors, using digital projection technology, to project their logos onto the bases during games.

The fans thought that was the cheesiest idea since Velveeta (I am not above product placement in my column), and their uproar preserved the tradition of logo-free bases, at least for the time being, as owners dream of the revenue stream that on-base logos would bring.

I was thinking about these things 20 years ago, like I say in a tongue-in-cheek way, never supposing it was a future reality. It is the exact same way I am feeling right now about advertising and televised City Council meetings. I am imagining a day 20 years from now when advertising is woven into the thread of the meetings, with various parts of the parliamentary procedure, such as calls to order, debates and votes, sponsored by advertisers with whom the institution has found rapport and revenue stream (city councilmen think about money a lot) within the boundaries of tradition.

The San Diego City Council is familiar with a form of civic advertising arrangements, having sold stadium naming rights to Qualcomm, for example, and to iPayOne, and of course to Petco. I wonder if any other municipality has thought about selling naming rights to their city halls or council chambers. Darn. Too bad Petco is already taken, locally.

Product placement would be fun, as Gov. Schwarzenegger has shown, but I still dream about the baseball model. Imagine the San Diego City Council as reality television, same as baseball. Low Neilsen ratings, but enough to attract local advertisers. “Good afternoon from King Stahlman Chamber, home of the San Diego City Council. Oops, here’s City Attorney Aguirre, sponsored by Jiffylube, stalking in with what looks like trouble on his mind. It portends a lively afternoon as the council ponders the pension fund issue, which is brought to you, by the way, by Caldera Spas . . .”

Well. That’s just my rudimentary imagination. Twenty years from now, maybe, the advertisers and the council will have created far more sophisticated scenarios. I hope you see how it starts to kill more than one bird with the same stone. It brings in revenue, and if there’s one thing this council needs, it’s revenue. And the only place this new money can come in is over the table. And it gets citizens paying attention to their government in action, particularly with commercials at the breaks with Paris Hilton washing the city manager’s car with a big messy bite out of a Rubio’s Fish Taco.

That is something that any city council would pay for. Citizen attention, I mean. If the council goes too far, tries the equivalent of putting logos on bases, it is the citizens who will rise together to restore tradition. Just like now.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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