Alec Rudolph, Paul DiPasqua, Drew Pearson
The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is one of the most heated rivalries in sports. Fans from both sides know that is is absolutely frowned upon to support the other side or represent them in any way, so when Red Sox legend David Ortiz actually puts on a piece of Yankees memorabilia, it’s kind of a big deal. In the commercial, Ortiz, Yankees legend Jorge Posada, and SportsCenter anchor Stan Verret are discussing a new Yankees hat. Ortiz offers to try the hat on and break it in. Red Sox mascot Wally sees Ortiz wearing the Yankees hat, and he acts accordingly, dropping the large stack of papers he was carrying, and although lacking the capability to show any facial expression, somehow manages to show his utter disbelief and disgust towards the Red Sox slugger.
This commercial, one of many in the “This is SportsCenter” series, is a genius piece of media. It only aired on ESPN channels, so its target audience was obviously sports fans. But the commercial gets more specific than that. There are several symbols embedded in the commercial that allow the viewer to identify with what is happening. The major symbol is the Yankees hat. The hat symbolizes the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, something many sports fans can identify with. Or, if they do not know about the rivalry, they are now intrigued by it and will look further into it, hopefully on ESPN, since it is the channel the commercial is airing on. This is known as semiotics, or the use of objects to express meaning.
Another way for the viewer to understand the commercial this through another framework called psychoanalysis, which involves understanding human behavior. This is where the characters in the commercial come in. Ortiz and Posada obviously represent the Red Sox and the Yankees, the two sides of the rivalry. Fans can choose to identify with either side. Wally represents the feeling of animosity between the teams because of the feeling of betrayal he shows towards Ortiz. Fans of either team can identify this this feeling, and for non-fans, they now understand the seriousness of the rivalry. Finally, Stan Verret represents SportsCenter and ESPN. He shows that not only does SportsCenter and ESPN understand the rivalry, they promote it. Those who are familiar with the rivalry already know that, so it just furthers their incentive to watch games on ESPN. For those who are not familiar, it shows that the rivalry is something worth watching, and that since SportsCenter is evidently in touch with the world of sports and can present a humorous take on it, that ESPN’s flagship show is also worth watching.
The whole commercial is about reinforcing the status quo that the Red Sox and the Yankees hate each other, and that SportsCenter promotes the rivalry. Another framework for analyzing media is political economy, which is just that: the media reinforcing the status quo. ESPN is reinforcing the fact that the two teams hate each other’s guts. The viewer sees that ESPN understands the rivalry, so they will watch ESPN for coverage on the rivalry. And this commercial in particular has held its own weight in the commercial series, with Time Magazine ranking it in the Top 12 “This is SportsCenter” commercials ever. Moreover, the commercial is able to blend the sports world with pop culture trends through its wittiness and exposure of top athletes, so that even those who are not entirely familiar with the world of sports can identify with the commercial.
With a show like SportsCenter, which has become a kind of pop culture leviathan that frequently influences the sports world it covers an advertisement like this one is almost guaranteed to have an impact. The Red Sox and Yankees hate each other, and the best place to go to learn more about the rivalry or to simply watch a game is SportsCenter and ESPN.