Let me preface this by saying that in the past I have, on more than one occasion, praised the Milwaukee Brewers and their marketing team for seeming to be on the pulse of the fans and overall providing a great fan experience.
The FAIL! Moniker is overused these days, but there is no other way to label this event than as a total and complete failure.
Next weekend they are holding a "Brewed for Her" event at Miller Park (Henceforth known as Brewed). Now. I’ve known about this event for awhile and when it was first announced, I was a little ragey about it, but was talked down by some friends. But the event has reared its ugly, sexist head one more time and it cannot be ignored.
First, some back story. The Brewers normally hold an event each year called All-Access for Women (Henceforth known as All-Access). This event was actually started a few years ago by UWM’s school of Continuing Education as a Baseball Basics for Women class that could have been condescending but wasn’t and looked to educate women who were looking to become better fans but didn’t have anyone to explain the game to them. It was handled well and walked the line carefully.
The first one was so popular that the Brewers themselves took it over and it has morphed since then. It became a day about women sports fans. It was empowering, in a way.
I’m not certain "empowering" is the right word, but I haven’t come up with a better one and frankly that’s annoying in its own right. Because you know what was great about that day? It was about women being baseball fans and bonding and a sisterhood. There was no judging. As my friend Minda (you know her from Royal Blues and Ladies…) said, "...it treated women like baseball fans who wanted to know things about the baseball world. In a perfect world, the word for that would be "ideal" or "normal" or "Tuesday." Instead, it's the exception..."
Think about the fact that prior to today, I (and others) have been applauding the Brewers for having an event that treated female sports fans like real, normal, legitimate people. What a novel concept…
Anyway, All-Access featured talks by women in high-level positions with the organization (something there are not enough of, obviously) and was very frank about what it was like being a woman in sports/a male-dominated field. The day switches up a bit every year, so those who return every year don’t get the same thing each time – last year we got to go down Bernie’s Slide. There were also tours of the clubhouse and other parts of the park usually off-limits, a question session with the manager and a player and their wives, a tailgate and then a game. The event sells out within weeks of its announcement every year.
So back to Brewed – here’s the graphic/flyer for it, so you get the gist of what is being sold/marketed here.
Hair. Makeup. Nails.
Offensive. Degrading. Stereotypical. Tone Deaf. Sexist. (And don't even get me started about the calling all of us "girls")
Lest you think my rage comes all from my estrogen, Miller Park Drunk covered it pretty succinctly:
Unless there's a Brewed For Him game planned with equally predictable activities like "Shotgunning beers for dummies" and an "All you can meat bar... MEAT MEAT MEAT [grunt noise, fart]", I don't think this type gender-specific promotion has a place in a 2013 Major League baseball stadium.
I first found out about Brewed back at the beginning of April and when I posted it on Facebook a friend of mine who works in Marketing and on the gameday staff for the Astros talked me down and basically pointed out that there are all kinds of corners to the fanbase and this was just attempting to appeal to one portion. This is something I sometimes forget, so I stepped back from my rage and said "to each her own." There are women who are not as tomboy as I, who like sports and are interested in nail and hair and makeup tips.
So while I was initially concerned about the implications of the Brewers saying "WOMENZ = hair, makeup and nails" I reminded myself that they do All-Access, which is a great event that isn’t sexist and is on the empowering side of things and so clearly these aren’t sexist folks, they’re just a team looking at low sales figures trying to make a buck. Ok, I said to myself, I can understand that.
This all changed, yesterday, however, when I saw on Twitter that a friend who went to All-Access with me last year said she got a call from the Brewers asking her if she was interested in a discount admission to Brewed. And then she said that they told her that Brewed has REPLACED All-Access.
All my understanding fled me.
Then I see this blog post about the event. The real highlight of the post is the slideshow of items you "could" get in your goodie bag that includes BREWERS UNDERWEAR!
Do they ask your size when you walk through the door or are we just going to add insult to injury here and hand out a bunch of stuff and hope/assume they fit? What about the women that aren’t twiggy-sized? Are they just screwed? Or those that are busty? Because even a skinny woman with any size chest is going to have problems wearing that tank top.
But even still – underwear?! This whole damn thing is demeaning and sexist enough without putting the Brewers logo on my crotch, thanks. My informal polling in last night’s game thread showed that not one man had any interest in Brewers-branded undies. These are guys that likely have boxers with all kinds of things printed on them, but nope – no Brewers licensed underwear interest from them. But for some reason the team thinks that extra x chromosome means I want to slap Brewers branding anywhere and everywhere I can put it. Silly women and their silly penchants – who can understand them anyway, amirite?
(Can we pause and talk about that logic? I’m not enough of a fan to be ok with just, you know, going to the game – I needed to be lured there with pashminas and fashion and makeup tips – but you think I’m so much of a fan as to wear the logo on as many of my surfaces as possible?)
The clincher of my getting royally pissed off with the Brewers came when I received my own voicemail and email about the event. Not only has Brewed replaced All-Access, but I’m getting these contacts BECAUSE I went to All-Access and they’re trying to sell me on Brewed because they’re similar events and they think I might be interested.
Lucky for the poor intern making the phone calls that I didn’t answer because around the point in the hard sell where she’s talking about all the great jewelry I’d get in the goodie bag, I’d certainly have hurt her ear drums with my rage scream.
So to review, the Brewers replaced a super-popular event that was empowering and powerful with one that is based on getting your hair and makeup done and they think these events are similar and serve the same population.
Because all women are the same and interchangeable, apparently.
And we only care about hair, makeup, nails and shopping.
So much for my crediting with the Brewers with non-sexist thoughts about female fans. Silly me for feeling legitimized by All-Access. Which is such a shame – it really was a great day and it’s really been ruined by this whole thing. I had such great feelings of camaraderie and sisterhood and it’s sad to know those were, in some ways, fake and that the Brewers don’t actually care about them.
The worst part is the realization that the whole maelstrom could have been very easily avoided.
As a friend pointed out on twitter, if you want to give the hard sell DURING All-Access, that wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, All-Access happens in the morning and then they send you away for awhile before you come back for the tailgate and game. Instead of the break, set up a boutique, highlight your women’s products, offer some of these hair/nail/makeup services and those that are interested could take advantage.
PROBLEM SOLVED! No fans alienated. No PR nightmare. No rampant sexism.
Instead, here we are. I’ve already paid for my season tickets, so staying home in some sort of boycott hurts no one but me, yet I feel like there should be some sort of blow back to the team for this.
The other spectacular tidbit in that blog post is this quote: "We know women love baseball and we wanted to give them a special day dedicated to them. This event will be a lot of fun; we hope they’ll enjoy the new Brewers gear and accessories and get new ideas on how to show their team support not just at the game, but also out on the town," said Jill Aronoff, Senior Director Merchandise Branding.
We know that women love baseball so we decided to give them a day that has nothing to do with baseball except that it takes place at our stadium and we will profit greatly from the things they purchase because they are all spectacularly overpriced. There I fixed it.
I mean, in the blog post that’s trying to sell you on coming to this event they admit that it’s just going to be one big hard sell to get you to buy more licensed gear directly from the team (Spoiler: 100% of the proceeds from merchandise sold at the stadium stay with that team and don’t have to be shared).
So this Brewed event is sexist and demeaning and undermining the feminist movement in about 1200 ways, but let’s go back for a second. Remember when I had made peace with the idea of it at the beginning when I thought it was meant to appeal to a specific corner of their market and I was not going to judge?
As we’re less than 10 days from the event and the Brewers are individually calling people and offering the tickets for half price, it seems they completely underestimated the size and interest of that portion of the market.
But really, that’s being too kind. This is a marketing department failure from start to finish.
They cancelled an event that has sold out for multiple years straight. They’ve pissed off a decent portion of their fanbase. They’re supposedly giving $250 worth of merchandise to each person attending, in addition to a ticket to sit in the Gehl Club, an AYCE buffet and two drinks. Now they’re charging just over $50 a ticket. And they’re not sold out.
Aside from any other implications or problems, scheduling an event like this on Memorial Day weekend was a bad idea. Between college and high school graduations, family vacations and even just backyard get-togethers, this is a busy weekend. Asking women to take time from that is going to yield poor results – moms especially will feel guilty not only spending $115, but also taking a full day away from their families. All around, this initial decision put this event at a disadvantage.
As they are scrambling to find women to attend this thing, a fundamental problem here is that it seems that they severely overestimated the interest in such an event. If I was to assume they were marking to a specific corner of their fanbase, one would assume they’d make sure that corner exits first, right?
Surveys or analysis of sales of the sorts of jewelry and accessories they’re putting in the gift bags should have helped them understand what kind of market there would be for this sort of thing, right? I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did this sort of thing before going ahead with the planning of this type of thing, but if the response is really this meager, I have to wonder. And if they didn’t, their bosses need to be questioning their hires.
Before this last minute push to fill the guest list, the price tag was $115. I understand the goodie bag, ticket and buffet more than make that worthwhile, but I feel like they totally misread who would be attending this thing.
It seems to me that they were trying to pull in women that were barely fans – they might attend a game with a significant other occasionally or when they’re friends were all tailgating, but really, baseball just isn’t their thing.
And if I’m right on that, trying to pull them in with lots of branded gear is the wrong tactic. They don’t actually care that much about the Brewers and therefore don’t have any interest in having logos on from head to toe- they wouldn’t be wearing earrings, a necklace, a tee, a scarf and underwear. And offering all those freebies drove up the price tag, making it price prohibitive for a lot of people. A casual fan just isn’t going to spend that kind of money.
They’d have been so much better off keeping the price low to get women through the door and banking on them spending money in a boutique setting once they are there. At this discounted price they are assuredly taking a loss (that $50 will barely cover the food and drink cost) and still won’t fill the room.
If they’d have started with a lower price, gave away less stuff with it, but filled the room, they’d have a captive audience who was excited to be there ready to open their pocketbooks. Sell raffle tickets to benefit the Community Foundation and give away a lot of things that way. They could have also lowered it to one free cocktail during the game and the made a specialty $5 cocktail/spritzer drink available during the afternoon and made a killing that way. Do a couple of mocktails, too, and charge similarly for those. Add a garnish and a free plastic cup that you refill and you’re justifying the expenditure in the guest’s eyes.
Imagine that – a couple of Brewers fans talking about this event were able to come up with better ideas about how to serve the fanbase than their own Marketing Department was. It’s almost like they should have asked us.
But the Brewed event really isn’t the only thing the Brewers do that makes their female fans feel like their being "insulted and degraded." Just mentioning this event on my own Facebook and Twitter brought about quite a bit of discussion from women who aren’t happy. Things like the Diamond Dancers and the new FSN Girls just do more to make us wonder what year it is we’re actually living in.
And the thing is, most of you men don’t actually care about these lowball attempts to grab your attention. More informal BCB polling showed many of you didn’t even know either of those two groups existed.
In an admittedly small sample, not one man I spoke to about this has any interest in either the Brewers Diamond Dancers or the FS-Wisconsin girls. These women are put there supposedly to enhance their enjoyment of the game and they don’t care – just one more tone deaf move to add to the list today.
But please don’t think the Brewers are alone in this. There really isn’t one professional sports team that doesn’t have some sort of pretty girl group, be them game-day staff or dancers or hosts, that are meant to appeal to this base male instinct. It’s a marketing tactic as old as marketing.
But just maybe it’s time to move beyond Don Draper and force these marketing and ad folks prove they’ve got something more creative in their heads than "boobs!"
This idea that men need to see skin and boobs to enjoy themselves is outdated in and of itself, but it’s a long-standing social construct. It’s perpetuated out of habit and laziness by advertising agencies and marketing departments. Changes in social norms mean women are often wearing less in the stands than the cheerleaders/dancers on the field. As one of the commenters here put it last night, there are naked women all over the internet free to look at in just a few clicks – why the heck would he get his jollies looking at a chick dancing at the Brewers game?
One of the reasons men act like uncouth boob droolers is that we expect them to act that way. We ask no more of them. We treat them like the lowest common denominator and then get upset when they "live up" to that expectation.
Frankly, at some point men need to get annoyed that advertisers don’t give them credit for being any more sophisticated. At some point (and it’s been about 40 years of women’s lib so…) women can’t be the only ones who care that they’re being denigrated and treated like objects and pandered to and put in a box.
Menfolk, you guys have to care, too. You need to be upset that the sister, mom, wife or girlfriend that goes to the game with you is being treated this way – that the team is happy to take y’alls money for the ticket and parking and beer, but doesn’t actually care how you feel about being treated this way. The onus is on us, too.
I don’t have a daughter, but as a girl who grew up in the 80s playing soccer as the only girl on the guys team, I feel like if I did I would want to take her to games and have her think that she could play baseball. Or at the very least know that her being a baseball fan didn’t make her strange or not girly or somehow undesirable. I’d want her to know that sitting there in a team cap and jersey being a fan was just plain good enough. I wouldn’t want her to see ads for Brewed and Diamond Dancers and think that’s what she would be relegated to if she was to be involved in baseball as a woman. I’d love to be able to point to Kim Ng as the first female GM, but somehow, inexplicably, we’re still not there yet.
I’m going even further off topic, but you stuck with me for this long so bear with me here for two more paragraphs - There was a time when I disliked the "pink hat" crowd because I thought they made the rest of us lady fans look bad. I’ve spent my whole life having to "prove" I knew enough about this sport or that before someone would take me seriously or let me interview them or let me be a "real" journalist and I thought these girls gave the rest of us a bad name.
Now I have to say that my only issue with the sparkles and sequins and pink stuff is that I hate the inherent implication that a women needs to be wearing those things in addition to her team’s colors to, you know, still point out she’s a women. That somehow being a sports fan strips away your femininity so much that you need to overtly display it just to make sure everyone else knows. That not wearing those things might make me seem butch.
I’ll just leave it right there – ponder what it is in our world that leaves women sitting in a baseball stadium feel like they need to prove their inherent womenness, like something about watching that game makes people question her being a woman.
And then go ahead and wonder why I get so up in arms about an event thrown by my baseball team that offers to give me hair and makeup tips.