LOS ANGELES--Taking out a full-page ad in the local paper thanking fans for their support has become a common P.R. strategy for athletes leaving their teams in recent years.  The ads have become so prevalent that many newspapers have come to depend on the lengthy, pricey messages for their very survival. In fact, as of last fiscal year, athletes full-page thank you ads were pretty much the only thing keeping the newspaper industry afloat.

“Roughly 70 percent of modern newspaper content consists of full-page thank you ads from departing professional athletes,” said David Mindich, professor of media studies at Stanford University. “Pretty much every athlete that leaves town now takes out an ad, even if he’s only been there for a short time. It’s getting a little clichéd at this point. Not that I’m complaining. I’m happy to see the newspaper industry surviving at all, even if it is as a delivery system for public relations missives written by sports agents.”

The most recent ad came from Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers, who was traded to the Dodgers and took out a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News.  Said Dallas Morning News editor Philip Harper: “Whew. Well that kept us afloat for another month. Thank you, Yu Darvish. You wouldn’t believe what we charge for those things, and you know what? It’s worth it. It’s really the only thing an actual newspaper can offer that the internet can’t: that personal touch. Anyway here's a card with our rates on it if you're planning to leave a sports team at any point in the future.”

The practice of taking out thank you ads used to be relegated to established stars who spent the majority of their careers with one team. That’s all changed, according to people in the industry. Now, pretty much anyone leaving for any reason wants to take out one of these ads.

“It’s really gotten out of control,” said Gayle Sandoval, associate editor of the Orange County Register. “I don’t know if its an ego thing at this point of if it's peer pressure or something else. Whatever it is, its great for us. This month we’ve got four ads running, including some Belgian soccer player who was with the L.A. Galaxy for two months and got traded. Turns out we spells his name wrong on the ad! We charged him a hundred bucks to fix it. Electricity bill for March? Paid.”

Newspapers in cities with multiple major professional sports franchises have been the biggest beneficiary of the full page thank you ad craze. The Boston Herald, for instance, printed an edition recently that consisted entirely of thank you ads.

“We consolidated all of our thank you ads into one edition,” said a Boston Herald reporter who asked not to be identified. “We released it as a ‘thank you’ edition. It was almost as big as our Sunday paper.  Although to be fair our Sunday paper has gotten considerably smaller over the years. If you take away the supermarket fliers its essentially an alt-right pamphlet that shits on the Red Sox.”

The full-page thank you ad business may be booming at the moment but as more and more athletes jump on the bandwagon, trouble could be brewing for newspapers.

“Like everything else this is subject to the law of diminishing returns,” said Sandoval. “Slowly but surely fans are getting jaded to the whole thing. Gordon Hayward took an ad out thanking Utah fans and they still ended up burning his jersey. So we may have to come up with some ways to keep it fresh. Maybe, I don’t know, incorporate social media somehow?  Like if somebody likes the ad, they can mail a ‘Like’ card to us and we can print their name in the next edition alongside a list of other readers who have mailed in their Like cards. See? And people say the newspaper industry can't innovate.”

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Athletes’ Full-Page Thank You Ads Now Only Thing Keeping Newspaper Industry Afloat

August 7, 2017        
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