SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Baseballs launched into McCovey Cove float untouched in the water now. The kayakers who once fought for Barry Bonds’ splash hits have found better things to do.

Nearby boats don’t blow their horns in celebration anymore. And the rubber chickens that fans waved during intentional walks are mostly collecting dust.

It doesn’t take a glance to left field, the scoreboard, or the standings to realize something’s missing around the San Francisco Giants.

From depressed television ratings to ticket scalpers giving away seats at cut-rate prices, signs of Bonds’ season-long absence are everywhere.

“It’s been disastrous,” said Ted Choi, the owner of City Kayak, which rents boats for fans to take to McCovey Cove. “Basically, the kayak rentals are down to practically none.”

When Florida’s Carlos Delgado splashed a homer into the cove last month, there was nobody in the bay to retrieve it – and with good reason, since Michael Tucker is the only Giant with a splash hit all season. When Bonds is healthy, fans arrive hours before first pitch to find a place in the water.

With Bonds now saying his knee injury will keep him out of the lineup until 2006, this has turned into a rough year for all the people who have made money off the slugger’s home run records and the victories he brings the Giants. Game tickets are one indicator – on the Internet, they’re selling for as little as one-quarter of their face value.

“When you’ve got the excitement I’ve created – my home runs are a lottery ticket – then you’ve got a city that’s excited,” Bonds said earlier this season during a particularly demoralizing losing stretch. “If you win, you’re going to create excitement, but you’ve got to win games. You can’t not win and expect people to come to baseball games.”

As for Bonds himself, the financial impact of his abesence has been mixed. He’s been hugely successful in licensing and memorabilia, ranking among the top five off-field earners in baseball, according to a recent study by Forbes magazine.

But while Bonds has publicly denied using steroids, he told a federal grand jury investigating steroid distribution by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative that he used substances prosecutors believe were illegal performance enhancing drugs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Bonds’ off-field income has dropped since then, according to Forbes, and he has lost opportunities for national endorsement deals that typically come to an athlete of his stature.

Off the market

“He’s gone from someone who has never gotten a lot of endorsements to someone who’s likely not to get any more and likely lose some that he already had,” said Steven Levitt, the president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., which tracks the “Q rating” popularity of athletes and other celebrities.

“He doesn’t make advertisers comfortable, that’s for sure. He is not necessarily a fan favorite these days and that certainly makes some advertisers very leery.”

Bonds’ Q rating, a number advertisers use to help decide who should pitch their products, has dropped to where it was before he broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record in 2002. His negativity rating in the general population has increased substantially, with three times as many people disliking him as liking him, according to the study.

In recent years, Bonds’ endorsement deals with MasterCard Inc., Charles Schwab Corp. and KFC have expired. The deals he has now are almost entirely with sports equipment and licensing companies.

“He had a good one-year or two-year run and has fallen off from that level,” said Kurt Badenhausen, the head of sports statistics at Forbes magazine.

Forbes recently estimated that Bonds’ income from endorsements, licensing and memorabilia fell from $4 million to $3 million over the last year.

Bonds still makes the bulk of his income on the field – he’s in the fourth year of a $90 million, five-year contract.

“He’s still doing better than he had during most of his career,” Badenhausen said. “He’s not necessarily a beloved superstar that advertisers want to attach their ride to. The BALCO stain certainly affected it. But a lot of the lack of interest in Barry as a corporate spokesman has to do with his 20 years antagonizing media and fans.”

Jeff Bernstein, Bonds’ marketing agent, wouldn’t disclose any financial numbers, but disputed the Forbes analysis and said that Bonds’ off-field income actually increased in the period.

Bonds has deals with more than 20 companies, according to Bernstein, including Topps, New Era, Danbury Mint, Getty Images and Sam Bats. He does much of his selling on his own Web site,, which has often been the place to go to get news of his rehabilitation, but also allows the slugger to sell collectibles directly to his fans.

Bonds is successful in the memorabilia market because while advertisers might be wary of him, collectors aren’t.

“Controversy is not fatal for our hobby,” said T.S. O’Connell, the editor of Sports Collector Digest. “People are buying historical material and a significant portion of the dollar value involved can be attributed to that historical, museum quality aspect of it. For middle range collectibles, the popularity of a player will have an effect. But when you’re talking 700-plus homers, that’s history. The scandals, or however you describe them, won’t change that.”

Brandon Steiner, the head of Steiner Sports Memorabilia, said he estimates Bonds used to get paid between $100 and $150 for each autograph when outside companies sold his memorabilia. Now that Bonds sells autographs directly to fans, he’s charging $400 for pictures, $600 for baseballs; and $5,000 for an unused glove.

The really big bucks will come if Bonds hits 53 more home runs and breaks Hank Aaron’s career record of 755. O’Connell estimated the ball will fetch more than $1 million and any other memorabilia linked to the homer – the bat or uniform, for instance – also will be worth a lot.

Without Bonds sidelined, ratings on over-the-air KTVU are off about 40 percent, while Fox Sports Net Bay Area has had a nearly 50 percent drop through July.

The team’s television partners have been forced to offer make-good commercials to advertisers -free spots to make up for lower-than-guaranteed ratings.

The Giants haven’t been hurt yet in attendance because the team has 28,500 season-ticket holders and sold nearly 3 million tickets by April, when the severity of Bonds’ injury wasn’t yet known, Giants executive vice president Larry Baer said.

Paid attendance through the first 58 home dates was down 700 fans per game, or 1.8 percent, from last year, and the number of no-shows is up, although it’s still in line with the league average, according to Baer.

While some say this could be a sign of what the Giants will face when Bonds is no longer with them, Baer believes the team has built up enough good will to survive a long stretch of losing.

“It’s what called the value of the brand,” Baer said. “People aren’t just fans of Barry they are fans of the Giants. When Barry is gone, that doesn’t mean they won’t be fans anymore.”

AP-ES-08-10-05 1946EDT

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