Now, equipped with microphones, binoculars, charts showing players' positions and the same set of updated stats provided to the daily media, fans get to call the action for a half inning, regardless of its length, from a mock broadcast booth overlooking the field. Behind them, an engineer records their work on tape—$20 for an audio, $30 for a video that mixes local or network pictures with shots of the two broadcasters hard at play. The arrangement with the A's is simple: In exchange for a share of the proceeds the A's donate the space, provide a mention of the program and a quick shot of the Fantasy announcers on the Diamond Vision screen, and give Greene A's tickets and media statistics to be included in the package for the participants.
The scheme, hatched before the '87 season but not launched until after the All-Star Game, caught on immediately. Entire games—especially against such teams as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Twins—are frequently sold out in advance. During the off-season, Greene decided to spread the word, selling the concept to Pittsburgh and eliciting interest from Cleveland, Seattle and the Chicago White Sox. Perhaps the surest sign of success is that Fantasy Play-by-Play has spawned at least one imitator: a version called Fantasy Baseball in San Diego.
But Greene's own fantasy of placing his idea in every major league ballpark has yet to be fulfilled. The stumbling block, of course, is money. To get Fantasy started, he needed sponsors to help underwrite the costs. Most companies, Greene says, didn't understand the value of his scheme to put a commercial message on each tape: "It was like, 'One person's going to hear the tape.' I said, 'You have one impression, but it's a lasting one. It has played over and over again.' "
Last season Greene made do with advertisers from the Oakland area. This year he solicited national support. After 30 presentations, he hit a homer: Anheuser-Busch and its Bud Light beer signed on.
In exchange for financing Fantasy this season, Bud Light gets a 10-second spot inserted in each fan's tape, a neon sign in the broadcasting booth, signs around the park and a commercial in every real radio broadcast of A's games. Bud Light also sponsored a season-long contest in which entrants submitted letters to KSFO explaining why they should be given a broadcasting opportunity. The winner was awarded a free visit to the Fantasy booth. According to Joe Castellano, Anheuser-Busch's director of sports marketing, the company may help market the Fantasy concept to other teams. "It's in the category of, 'Let's give it a run and see what kind of reaction we get,' " he says.
If Pogue's reaction is any indication, the program is a hit. "It was fantastic," he said several days after his taping. "We sped home to put on the video. We've played it for anyone who comes and visits." He has even forced several of his customers to listen to his tape. "Two of them thought we'd actually been broadcasting."
Last season Fantasy drew a variety of couples: husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, fathers and sons. One bit of dialogue went like this:
Thad: "Looks like we've got a pitching change."
Mary Jo: "Thank goodness! I'm ready for some new action, aren't you?"
Thad: "Oh, I've been pretty content as of late, Mary Jo."