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Sunday, July 06, 2008

What Does This Say About MLB's "Charity" Contribution?

Red, white, and boo

I was giving serious consideration to buying one of those star-spangled Angels hats that have been on display for Fourth of July weekend. As it turned out, I wasn't able to get one because the second deck team store was out of everything except for sizes 8 and 7 7/8 (much too big for my head), and there was no way I was going to enter the madhouse of the home plate store. (Forget the souvenir stands throughout the park — none of them had any, and they all told me to go to the main store.)

It turns out that it was just as well, because the hats were going for $35 (I assume they are the same price as the Mariners caps of the same provenance). But, they say, it's for a good cause: some fraction of that overpriced cap is going to charity, Welcome Back Veterans. The only problem, as U.S.S. Mariner relays, is that MLB can't be bothered to tell us just how much money will be going to that cause. Paul Lukas of Uniwatch went to the press conference announcing these babies, and boy did he get an earful:

All the materials related to this promotion say that “a portion of the proceeds” from the cap sales will go to the charity program [look at the last bullet point here, for example]. Can you tell us what percentage that portion is?

The reason I ask is that some fans — including many who have already expressed their opinions to me as news of this initiative leaked out over the weekend — may view this program as just another merchandising program to move product and generate revenue. So what portion of the cap proceeds will go to the charity? And if it’s not 100%, why not?

And man, you could practically hear them crossing my name off their Christmas card lists. MLB PR czar Rich Levin glared at me like I’d just hocked a loogie in his cappuccino or something. “The answer is that that hasn’t been determined yet,” he growled. “But this is a charity initiative — it isn’t about generating revenue.”

“I’m not suggesting otherwise,” I responded. “But there’s a certain level of cynicism out there among some fans, so I was giving you a chance to clarify…”

“We reject that,” he snapped. “We reject the cynicism.”

And that, my friends, was the end of that. No more questions, cue the photographers for glad-handing pics. Afterward, two gentlemen who were involved with the vets’ program (i.e., not MLB employees) approached me and said, “I thought it was a very good question, and I don’t think you got much of an answer.”

And there you have it.

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Ties in well with the LA Times' column one article this Sunday, which was all about the efficiency ratio of "proceeds donated to charity." In aggregate, only half of that money ever sees the charitable cause worthy of the source.

LAT grouped charities by category and ranked the efficiency of their fundraising efforts, based on % that went to charity. Sadly, "missing children" and "veterans" were the two least-efficient categories, with %-donated-to-charity figures lower than 20%.

This makes me think MLB's cap thing is filling its own coffers, not the vets'.
We discovered that one of the charities we had thought to give money to a couple years ago turned out to be nothing of the sort. We now look for 501(c)'s in general, and check out their finances more closely before donating. And as a rule, we never give to anyone who calls us.
BTW, that article is here. Good story.

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