Halftime Sports

Cracker Jack-Pot: The Million-Dollar Lyrics

September 29, 2014


When was the last time you heard the famous song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”? If you can’t remember, perhaps try the last baseball game you attended. Now think back to that game. Think of the number of fans listening and singing along to the iconic song during the seventh inning stretch. Now compound that number in your head across every game for every team for an entire season. Now take that number and stretch it back decades to the song’s introduction to Major League ballparks. That is how many times “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has been played in a Major League setting, and for the sweet and salty snack Cracker Jacks, this represents something quite astounding.

The song was composed by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer in New York City in 1908. The tune was popularized through Vaudeville acts during the 1920s and played at its first baseball game—a high school game in Los Angeles—in 1934. Many baseball historians believe the song made its Major League debut later that year. If you are unfamiliar with the song or perhaps drawing a blank on the lyrics, Norworth and von Tilzer placed a shout-out to the snack Cracker Jacks right in the middle of the song, as the singer proclaims, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I ever get back.” By harmlessly referring to a favorite treat in their simple new song, the writers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” unwittingly provided Cracker Jacks with decades of free advertising. The owners of the snack stumbled into the perhaps most lucrative lyrical development of all time. So let’s put a number to it. Just how much in advertising costs did the owners of Cracker Jacks save by Norwoth’s and von Tilzer’s serendipitous inclusion of the product in their song? After a bit of number crunching, you will be amazed.

In order to start any sort of calculation like this, one needs to be able to quantify what a single play of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in a Major League ballpark would cost. For all intents and purposes, we will consider “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” the equivalent of an ad for Cracker Jacks. According to AdSemble, a marketing consultancy firm that matches advertisers with jumbotron locations, the cost of a single ad played on a jumbotron in any sports venue costs between $4,500 and $15,000. Since “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is a song and not a visual advertisement, and because the demand for Cracker Jacks ads in arenas is probably not astronomical, we will err on the conservative side and assume that a single ad for Cracker Jacks in a Major League Stadium would cost $4,500 today.

While historians speculate that the song was first played at a Major League ballpark in 1934, let’s assume that it was first played regularly during the seventh inning stretch for every team starting in the 1940 Major League season. This calculation does not include plays at Minor League ballparks, where the song will have reached an even larger body of consumers and thus provided the owners of Cracker Jacks with even more free advertising. Using data from the World Bank, the $4,500 cost of an ad in 2014 would be worth around $270.32 in 1940. For the purposes of this calculation, I smoothed this out to a 3.8735% rate of increase in cost each year from 1940 through 2014.

So assuming the value of running “Take Me Out to the Ball” Game in Major League parks started at $270.32 in 1940 and increased 3.8735% per year to about $4,500 in 2014, we can calculate how much the owners of Cracker Jacks netted in free advertising each season based upon the number of teams in the league during a particular season and the number of games played in each season. A total of 16 Major League teams existed in 1940, and the league remained at 16 clubs until 1961 in which two expansion teams were added. The league had 18 teams until just a year later, when in 1962 the league number was upped to 20. The Majors remained at 20 teams until its largest expansion in 1969, when four more franchises were added. Between 1969 and the next expansion in 1977, the MLB had 24 franchises. From 1977 all the way through 1993, the league had 26 teams when two more were yet again added to the mix. The league sat at 28 teams until the final expansion in 1996, when the league added its 29th and 30th teams. Thus the league remained until present day.

Each team played 154 games in a season from 1940 until 1962, when the league lengthened the season to 162 games. The season remained at 162 to present day, with the exception of the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. We will assume that each team played 113 games in 1994 (the average number of games played by each team in 1994), while every team played exactly 144 games in 1995. The final step before calculating a number is incorporating the postseason. From 1940-1969, the playoffs consisted simply of the World Series. We will assume this added an average of six games to the season. From 1969 through 1993, the Majors featured two postseason rounds, as the league added the Championship Series to the mix in 1969. We will assume that each playoff series between 1969 and 1993 lasted an average of five games. Lastly, in 1994, the league added the Divisional Series to the postseason, which brought up the total to three rounds. Again, we will assume each series went five games. Now, if you have managed to keep all that straight in your head, we have all the numbers necessary to do our preliminary calculation.

We can see in the chart below the value of free advertising that the owners of Cracker Jacks had netted every year simply by having its product in the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. This total sum of the yearly free advertising aggregates to over 281 million dollars! But this figure is still missing a step in the calculation-it ignores interest. In other words, these yearly dollar values are in historical terms, not present 2014 dollar terms. If we assume the owners of Cracker Jacks had invested the saved advertising costs each year, then this total would amount to an even greater sum to reflect interest compounding. Using a World Bank average real interest rate in the United States between 1940 and present day of 3.62%, we can compound each year’s saved advertising costs to 2014. As you can see below, this means that the owners of Cracker Jacks saved over 648 million dollars in advertising costs from 1940-2014 in current dollar terms! That’s right: just by putting the words “Cracker Jack” in the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, the composers essentially provided the owners of Cracker Jacks with over a half a billion dollars in free advertising in Major League stadiums across the country!

While “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has never topped any charts or sold out any rock arenas, to say it has proved valuable would be a gross understatement. When analyzed financially over time, the song has provided the owners of Cracker Jacks with a downright astounding benefit. I defy any of the musical stars of today to write a lyric as valuable.

Cost Saved by Cracker Jack
Year Cost of 1 ad Yearly Cost Saved Value in 2014 terms
1940 $270.32 $346,010 $4,807,438
1941 $280.79 $359,412 $4,819,199
1942 $291.67 $373,334 $4,830,989
1943 $302.97 $387,795 $4,842,807
1944 $314.70 $402,816 $4,854,655
1945 $326.89 $418,420 $4,866,532
1946 $339.55 $434,627 $4,878,437
1947 $352.70 $451,462 $4,890,372
1948 $366.37 $468,950 $4,902,336
1949 $380.56 $487,114 $4,914,329
1950 $395.30 $505,983 $4,926,352
1951 $410.61 $525,582 $4,938,404
1952 $426.52 $545,941 $4,950,485
1953 $443.04 $567,088 $4,962,596
1954 $460.20 $589,054 $4,974,737
1955 $478.02 $611,871 $4,986,908
1956 $496.54 $635,571 $4,999,108
1957 $515.77 $660,190 $5,011,338
1958 $535.75 $685,763 $5,023,598
1959 $556.50 $712,326 $5,035,888
1960 $578.06 $739,918 $5,048,208
1961 $600.45 $864,651 $5,693,127
1962 $623.71 $1,047,834 $6,658,231
1963 $647.87 $1,088,421 $6,674,520
1964 $672.97 $1,130,581 $6,690,849
1965 $699.03 $1,174,374 $6,707,218
1966 $726.11 $1,219,864 $6,723,627
1967 $754.24 $1,267,115 $6,740,075
1968 $783.45 $1,316,197 $6,756,565
1969 $813.80 $1,728,506 $8,563,126
1970 $845.32 $1,795,460 $8,584,075
1971 $878.06 $1,865,007 $8,605,076
1972 $912.08 $1,937,248 $8,626,128
1973 $947.40 $2,012,287 $8,647,231
1974 $984.10 $2,090,233 $8,668,386
1975 $1,022.22 $2,171,198 $8,689,592
1976 $1,061.82 $2,255,300 $8,710,851
1977 $1,102.95 $2,537,880 $9,459,842
1978 $1,145.67 $2,636,185 $9,482,985
1979 $1,190.05 $2,738,298 $9,506,184
1980 $1,236.14 $2,844,366 $9,529,440
1981 $1,284.03 $2,954,542 $9,552,754
1982 $1,333.76 $3,068,986 $9,576,124
1983 $1,385.43 $3,187,863 $9,599,551
1984 $1,439.09 $3,311,345 $9,623,036
1985 $1,494.83 $3,439,610 $9,646,578
1986 $1,552.74 $3,572,844 $9,670,178
1987 $1,612.88 $3,711,238 $9,693,835
1988 $1,675.36 $3,854,992 $9,717,551
1989 $1,740.25 $4,004,316 $9,741,324
1990 $1,807.66 $4,159,423 $9,765,156
1991 $1,877.68 $4,320,538 $9,789,046
1992 $1,950.41 $4,487,894 $9,812,994
1993 $2,025.96 $5,020,327 $10,593,693
1994 $2,104.43 $3,329,216 $6,779,751
1995 $2,185.95 $5,324,975 $10,465,157
1996 $2,270.62 $6,539,394 $12,402,868
1997 $2,358.58 $6,792,698 $12,433,210
1998 $2,449.94 $7,055,813 $12,463,628
1999 $2,544.83 $7,329,120 $12,494,119
2000 $2,643.41 $7,613,013 $12,524,685
2001 $2,745.80 $7,907,903 $12,555,326
2002 $2,852.16 $8,214,216 $12,586,042
2003 $2,962.64 $8,532,394 $12,616,833
2004 $3,077.39 $8,862,896 $12,647,699
2005 $3,196.60 $9,206,200 $12,678,641
2006 $3,320.42 $9,562,802 $12,709,659
2007 $3,449.03 $9,933,217 $12,740,752
2008 $3,582.63 $10,317,981 $12,771,921
2009 $3,721.41 $10,717,648 $12,803,167
2010 $3,865.55 $11,132,796 $12,834,489
2011 $4,015.29 $11,564,025 $12,865,888
2012 $4,170.82 $12,011,957 $12,897,364
2013 $4,332.38 $12,477,240 $12,928,916
2014 $4,500.19 $12,960,546 $12,960,546
Total $283,110,199 $648,124,323

 

Photo: Will Price



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