Officials of Clearwater's minor-league team were shaking their heads Friday after being forced to cancel a series of bobblehead giveaways when the major-league Rays complained the promotion violated baseball's marketing rules.
The Clearwater Threshers, Philadelphia's Class A farm team, planned to give out nine different bobbleheads saluting the starters from the Phillies' World Series championship team. The Phillies won the title in the fall, beating the Rays.
But when the Rays heard about the promotion, they contacted top-level Philadelphia officials, and the Clearwater team was forced to cancel its plans, at a cost that could exceed $50,000.
"It's disappointing to us, and it's disappointing to our fans," Threshers general manager John Timberlake said. "We were in violation of the agreement, and we didn't realize it."
Under MLB rules, the Rays have exclusive rights to their home territory, and teams can't market using other major-league team names or brands. The same rules would apply to the minor-league Dunedin Blue Jays and Tampa Yankees. The teams, apparently, can market major-league players in their minor-league uniforms.
Timberlake, a 20-plus year employee, said the Clearwater team, and many other minor-league teams in big-league markets (such as the Yankees' Trenton, N.J., team near Philadelphia) have routinely given out items from the big-league team.
But the Rays were concerned with this promotion.
"The Phillies organization recognized they were in violation of Major League Baseball's territorial rights guidelines and canceled the promotion," Rays vice president Rick Vaughn said in a statement. "We appreciate their attention to this matter."
The Rays had nothing to gain by enforcing the rule — the Threshers typically draw a few thousand fans on weekends, so there wasn't a concern about the promotion affecting attendance.
The Threshers had already given out one bobblehead and were advertising the second when the Rays first raised the issue a month ago. On Thursday night — the eve of Friday's planned third giveaway, of former Phillie and current Ray Pat Burrell — the Threshers ended the promotion.
They planned to issue refunds to fans who asked but now have to figure out what to do with the more than 8,000 bobblehead dolls (1,200 of each, at about $3.50 apiece) and the $25,000 or so in sponsorship money they took in.
Most likely, they'll save the bobbleheads for spring training, when the rules are relaxed, but in the meantime they'll make light of the situation.
Timberlake considered delivering 1,000 of Burrell's bobbleheads to his locker or having them remade into bobbleheads of Rays star Evan Longoria.
And they're talking about having Adherence to the Rules Night, he said: "We'll give out gray molds of bobbleheads and we'll all wear white shirts with our Phillies logos covered up."
During the World Series, the Rays complained about poor security and treatment of their families in the stands in Philadelphia. Add in bad weather and a disappointing loss, could their actions have anything to do with what happened then?
"I have no idea," Timberlake said. "I don't know where this is coming from. I know I felt perfectly fine about the outcome of the Series."