In an era when communications is increasingly electronic, a printed item has prevailed as both a chronicler of history and a valued piece of memorabilia.
It is the World Series program which, since 1903, has been sold at every World Series. While programs were just 10 cents during the first ten years of World Series history, a program at this year's World Series, which begins tonight when the Texas Rangers face off against the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis, will set fans back $15.
Still, it's a good bet the programs will be snapped up because they are "one of the most important licensed products we make," says Howard Smith the senior vice president for licensing at Major League Baseball. Ira Mayer, the editor of The Licensing Letter, adds, "It's physical and tangible, and everything else is here and gone."
Speaking with the New York Times, Smith would not reveal the number of programs sold each year, but he did say that the first game of the 2005 World Series was held at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, with a capacity of around 41,000 — and more programs were sold than there were people in the stadium.
This year's World Series program is a 300-page glossy extravaganza that bears little resemblance to the thin publications of the past that were primarily designed for scorekeepers. But some things never change — the 2011 program contains blank scorecards for each of seven possible games in a quaint nod to fans who still like to keep score manually.
Modern-day programs have become representative of a brand that is now carefully controlled by Major League Baseball. In olden days, teams got to produce their own programs, so there was little that remained the same from year to year. In 1974, however, Major League Baseball got into the program publishing business, not just to maintain brand consistency but also to share revenue from the programs across all of baseball's teams.
Now, MLB produces not just the World Series programs but also the programs for the League Championship Series. (Teams participating in the early playoff rounds are allowed to produce their own programs.) Three versions of the World Series program are created — one for fans of each of the two participating teams to be distributed at the respective stadiums, and a third version that can be sold to the general public. With the advent of digital publishing, the program can be produced as soon as the winning American League and National League teams have been determined.
World Series programs seem to have a shelf life long after the conclusion of the last game. Major League Baseball allows the programs to be sold through retail outlets when the Series is over. They are a favored holiday gift for baseball fans, especially those in the winning team's city. It is not unusual for the programs to continue to be purchased right up until the next baseball season. After all, a fan can't watch any games until spring training anyway.
While World Series programs are bona fide collectors' items today, programs of old were for the most part discarded. As a result, they have appreciated in value. Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, told the New York Times that a program from the first World Series in 1903 was sold at auction last year for $96,000.
So if you get your hands on a copy of this year's World Series program, you may want to hold on to it for a while.