Cracker Jack-Pot: Million-Dollar Lyrics

cracker jacks

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 institution into 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 Jack, this represents something quite astounding.

The song Take Me Out to the Ball Game 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. However, 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 sweet and salty snack Cracker Jack right in the middle of the song, as the singer proclaims, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, 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 unknowingly provided Cracker Jack with a path to decades of free advertising. The owners of the product may have stumbled into perhaps the 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 Jack 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 Jack. 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 Jack ads in arenas is probably not astronomical, we will err on the conservative side and assume that a single ad for Cracker Jack 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 Jack 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% inflationary rate of increase in cost each year from 1940 through 2014.

So assuming the cost of running the Cracker Jack ad 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 Jack 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 every World Series (abbreviated WS below) was 6 games. From 1969 through 1993, the Majors featured just two postseason rounds, as the league added the Championship Series (LCS) to the mix in 1969. We will assume that each Championship Series lasted an average of 5 games. Lastly, in 1994, the league added the Divisional Series (LDS) to the postseason, which brought the total up to three rounds. Because the LDS is a best-of-five round, we will assume each divisional series went 4 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, as the data provides us with the following equations:

Yearly Cost Saved Calculation

1940-1960 yearly cost saved: 16 teams, 154 games+ 6 WS games- (cost*8*154)+(6*cost)
1961 cost saved: 18 teams, 154 games+6 WS games – (cost*9*154)+(6*cost)
1962-1968 yearly cost saved: 20 teams, 162 games +6 WS games-(cost* 10*162)+(6*cost)
1969-1976 yearly cost saved: 24 teams, 162 games + 5 LCS games, 2 series + 6 WS games-(cost*12*162)+(5*2*cost)+(6*cost)
1977-1992 yearly cost saved: 26 teams, 162 games+ 5 LCS games, 2 series + 6 WS games- (cost*13*162)+(5*2*cost)+(6*cost)
1993 cost saved: 28 teams, 162 games + 5 LCS games, 2 series + 6 WS games- (cost*14*162)+(5*2*cost)+(6*cost)
1994 cost saved: 28 teams, 113 games- (cost*14*113)
1995 cost saved: 28 teams, 144 games+ 4 LDS games, 4 series + 5 LCS games, 2 series + 6 WS games- (cost*14*144)+(4*4*cost)+(5*2*cost)+(6*cost)
1996-2014 yearly cost saved: 30 teams, 162 games + 4 LDS games, 4 series + 5 LCS games, 2 series + 6 WS games- (cost*15*162)+(4*4*cost)+(5*2*cost)+(6*cost)

Based upon these calculations, we can see in below the value of free advertising that the owners of Cracker Jack 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 $249 million! 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 Jack 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 Jack saved over $588 million in advertising costs from 1940-2014 in current dollar terms! That’s right: just by putting the words “Cracker Jacks” in the song Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the composers essentially provided the owners of Cracker Jack 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 managed to provide tremendous value would be a gross understatement. When analyzed financially over time, the song has provided the owners of Cracker Jack with a downright astounding benefit. I challenge 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 of Cost Saved in 2014 terms
1940 $270.32 $334,656 $4,649,694
1941 $280.79 $347,619 $4,661,069
1942 $291.67 $361,084 $4,672,472
1943 $302.97 $375,071 $4,683,903
1944 $314.70 $389,599 $4,695,362
1945 $326.89 $404,690 $4,706,848
1946 $339.55 $420,366 $4,718,364
1947 $352.70 $436,649 $4,729,907
1948 $366.37 $453,562 $4,741,478
1949 $380.56 $471,131 $4,753,078
1950 $395.30 $489,380 $4,764,706
1951 $410.61 $508,336 $4,776,363
1952 $426.52 $528,027 $4,788,048
1953 $443.04 $548,480 $4,799,761
1954 $460.20 $569,725 $4,811,504
1955 $478.02 $591,794 $4,823,275
1956 $496.54 $614,717 $4,835,074
1957 $515.77 $638,528 $4,846,903
1958 $535.75 $663,261 $4,858,761
1959 $556.50 $688,953 $4,870,648
1960 $578.06 $715,639 $4,882,563
1961 $600.45 $835,829 $5,503,357
1962 $623.71 $1,014,153 $6,444,217
1963 $647.87 $1,053,436 $6,459,982
1964 $672.97 $1,094,241 $6,475,786
1965 $699.03 $1,136,627 $6,491,629
1966 $726.11 $1,180,654 $6,507,510
1967 $754.24 $1,226,387 $6,523,430
1968 $783.45 $1,273,891 $6,539,389
1969 $813.80 $1,595,043 $7,901,943
1970 $845.32 $1,656,827 $7,921,275
1971 $878.06 $1,721,004 $7,940,654
1972 $912.08 $1,787,667 $7,960,080
1973 $947.40 $1,856,913 $7,979,554
1974 $984.10 $1,928,840 $7,999,075
1975 $1,022.22 $2,003,554 $8,018,645
1976 $1,061.82 $2,081,162 $8,038,262
1977 $1,102.95 $2,340,453 $8,723,939
1978 $1,145.67 $2,431,110 $8,745,282
1979 $1,190.05 $2,525,279 $8,766,677
1980 $1,236.14 $2,623,096 $8,788,124
1981 $1,284.03 $2,724,702 $8,809,623
1982 $1,333.76 $2,830,243 $8,831,176
1983 $1,385.43 $2,939,872 $8,852,780
1984 $1,439.09 $3,053,748 $8,874,438
1985 $1,494.83 $3,172,035 $8,896,149
1986 $1,552.74 $3,294,904 $8,917,913
1987 $1,612.88 $3,422,532 $8,939,730
1988 $1,675.36 $3,555,104 $8,961,601
1989 $1,740.25 $3,692,811 $8,983,525
1990 $1,807.66 $3,835,852 $9,005,502
1991 $1,877.68 $3,984,434 $9,027,534
1992 $1,950.41 $4,138,771 $9,049,619
1993 $2,025.96 $4,627,291 $9,764,324
1994 $2,104.43 $3,329,216 $6,779,751
1995 $2,185.95 $4,476,826 $8,798,293
1996 $2,270.62 $5,590,274 $10,602,729
1997 $2,358.58 $5,806,813 $10,628,668
1998 $2,449.94 $6,031,740 $10,654,671
1999 $2,544.83 $6,265,380 $10,680,737
2000 $2,643.41 $6,508,069 $10,706,866
2001 $2,745.80 $6,760,159 $10,733,060
2002 $2,852.16 $7,022,014 $10,759,318
2003 $2,962.64 $7,294,012 $10,785,640
2004 $3,077.39 $7,576,545 $10,812,026
2005 $3,196.60 $7,870,023 $10,838,477
2006 $3,320.42 $8,174,868 $10,864,993
2007 $3,449.03 $8,491,521 $10,891,573
2008 $3,582.63 $8,820,440 $10,918,219
2009 $3,721.41 $9,162,100 $10,944,930
2010 $3,865.55 $9,516,994 $10,971,706
2011 $4,015.29 $9,885,635 $10,998,547
2012 $4,170.82 $10,268,555 $11,025,455
2013 $4,332.38 $10,666,307 $11,052,428
2014 $4,500.19 $11,079,467 $11,079,467
$249,786,690 $588,240,052

The total 2014 dollar value saved by the owners of Cracker Jack by the song Take Me Out to the Ball Game comes to over $588 million! This calculation does not even include plays of the song at minor league games, which would have saved the owners even more in advertising. The bottom line? Take Me Out to the Ball Game provided quite a bit of free advertising to the owners of Cracker Jack!

Image Courtesy of honestcooking.com

Sources
World Bank. (n.d.).
“AdSemble.” Adsemble.com. Web. 25 September 2014.
Baseball Reference. http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/1940.shtml. Web.
25 September 2014.

Stephen Filocoma
Georgetown University Class of 2016

Connect with Stephen: sgf11@georgetown.edu
Follow GSABR on Twitter: @GtownSports
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