Though the voiceover on a pair of new commercials for the Madison Mallards sounds remarkably like Morgan Freeman, it's not really the Hollywood star doing the talking. The voice actually belongs to Tom Kane, a well-known voice actor who is particularly prominent in cartoons and video games and as an announcer for the Oscars.
Kane, whose recent work includes Shrek the Third and multiple Star Wars and Marvel gaming titles, has spoofed Freeman's voice in a couple of other productions over the last few years. He is credited as the "March of the Penguin Narrator" in an episode of Robot Chicken, and explicitly portrayed Freeman's voice (along with Sean Connery's) in three episodes of the short-lived Fox reality parody series Invasion Iowa.
What about these baseball commercials? "It's by no means a Morgan Freeman voice," says Mike Kriefski, co-founder and creative director of Shine Advertising. Based in downtown's Bassett neighborhood, the agency focuses primarily on regional and national consumer products and services (Harley Davidson) and a few local accounts (Veridian Homes). It's also selling baseball in Madison.
Shine has jumped headfirst into promoting the Mallards over the last couple of years, producing a light-hearted and nostalgic campaign that includes these spots, a spoof 'Guide to Employee Happiness & Morale" recommending a trip to the ballpark as a workplace salve, and various other methods (such as this poster).
Both commercials were written and directed by James Breen, an associate creative director with the agency. Shooting began on May 1, and everything was in the can by the end of the month. As for the voiceover, Kane was their guy.
"Tom is a great, well-known voice talent," says Kriefski. "We've developed a relationship with Mr. Kane over the last five years, we've worked with him on a great many projects just because he has such a range with the voices he does." In these spots, they wanted him to portray a "warm, approachable and down-to-earth personality that we believe is endearing about minor league baseball."
"In baseball, there's this wonderful warmth, the spirit of competition, people are playing not for money but for the love of the game," Kriefski pitches. "We wanted to produce some spots that showed some players not in the typical setting of the game, but rather focusing on all of the work that goes into it. That is really what the fans love."
The first commercial focuses on philatelists. "Stamp collecting will never be America's pastime," Kane intones. "There are no beer guys, or big soft pretzel guys. No two-out bottom-of-the-ninth comebacks. You'll never see a child with cotton-candy-sticky hands singing, 'Take me out to the stamp collection.' No, stamp collecting is just stamp collecting."
The second spot focuses on a paragon of high culture. "The opera will never be America's pastime," Kane similarly begins. "Fathers will never pass along season opera tickets to sons. Grown men will never paint their faces for performances of Madame Butterfly. And never will the opera divide cities in half. No, the opera is just the opera."
The Mallards are pleased with the outcome. 'We wanted something nice and simple, and that connects with the message that we want to get out there," says general manager Vern Stenman. "I think these spots illustrate that well."
Both were played on ESPNU when the network featured the June 14 game between the Mallards and the Green Bay Bullfrogs. They will also run on Northwoods Baseball Weekly, a series of 11 shows on ESPN's college sports network. Over the summer, the program will feature each of the 11 cities in the league, which fields teams in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michgan, and Ontario. The commercials have also been airing on local television stations, and will continue to do so over the season.
Stenman chuckles about the two spots and the voice behind them. "Part of me wanted to say that we're not at liberty to discuss whose voice that was," he says, "so it would be a bit of a mystery."