It’s time for the 2017 #WorldSeries! Unsurprisingly, World Series advertising doesn’t hold a candle to Super Bowl ads. Even when the World Series stretches into 7 games, ad revenues still don’t come close to what networks make in one evening for the Super Bowl; a record $500 million in 2017. However, this wasn’t always the case. Historically, baseball and advertising have gone hand in hand since at least the late 1800s.
Baseball cards, for example, have been used as marketing tools for over a hundred years. While many remember getting a baseball card with a pack of gum, they originally came with a pack of cigarettes, and the American Tobacco Company from right here in Durham, NC was one of the first companies to use baseball cards for marketing purposes.
Cigarette packs needed to be sturdy enough to hold up during shipping and while being toted around in people’s pockets, so tobacco companies begin using “cards” to keep the packs stiff. Before baseball cards became popular, many tobacco companies used cards with “pin-up” style images of scantily clad women to sell their products. However, the Duke family, founders of the American Tobacco Company, were fervent Methodists, and they highly disapproved of using women’s images in this way. As a substitute, they started using baseball cards to capitalize on the extreme popularity of local players and the sport as a whole. The trend soon caught on, and people began choosing ATC tobacco in place of cheaper brands so they could add to their baseball card collection.
Today, baseball cards are only bought and sold as collectibles; commodities in their own right. The world’s rarest and most expensive card, the T206 Honus Wagner card, was designed and issued by the American Tobacco Company in 1909. After fewer than 200 were produced, Wagner, a non-smoker, refused to allow production of his card to continue, for fear that baseball cards were enticing young children to smoke. Most recently, one of his cards sold for $3.21 million.
Although baseball’s advertising power isn’t what it used to be, a brief history of baseball cards shows that America’s love for sports (and the marketing potential that goes with it) runs deep, and covers its bases.