[Originally posted Oct. 28, 2004]
Capitalism and Commercialism have their place … but the proliferation of sponsorships of every sound byte and every visual experience in the sports arena strikes me as obnoxious. Like the frog that boils slowly … we didn’t object when the major college football bowl games compromised their unadulterated tradition (Orange, Sugar, Rose, Cotton, Gator bowls) to each align themselves with a major corporate sponsor. It made perfect marketing sense to tap into these available funds to support these special once-a-year extravaganzas.
Corporate sponsorship of sporting arenas and stadiums is nothing new. It has been around for several years. The high costs of operating sports teams and sports venues, when combined with the potential marketing exposure to a company, made these sponsorships inevitable. For most fans, their first exposure to this practice began with the annual college bowl games, which began to see sponsorships in the mid 1990’s. It was college football that first brought us the likes of the Humanitarian Bowl, the Weed Wacker Bowl, the Gallery Furniture Bowl, and the Outback Bowl (which to many is just too much of a reminder of the privies of the past).
But flash forward to today and see how hot the water has become. Now SBC Communications has put their stamp on a number of specific college football games during the regular season such as the recent SBC Red River Shootout between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners.
We used to name our sports stadiums to honor our past heroes or to designate the geographic area (Connie Mack Stadium; Orioles Park at Camden Yards). But who can afford now to pass up the lucrative riches dangled by the Madison Avenue execs? So now the Ravens Stadium has suffered from a severe identity crisis … from the bankrupt PSINET Stadium … to the current M & T Bank Stadium. Confused out-of-towners must think we are building new stadiums every three years.
It used to be that you could listen to a baseball game on the radio and tolerate the commercials sandwiched between the innings. (“Baseball and Ballentine … baseball and Ballentine … what a combination … all across the nation … baseball and Ballentine.” – I guess that one shows my true age.) Now every pitching change is brought to you by some salivating vendor … the pregame brought to you by … the Keys to the Game … the manager’s report sponsored by … the game stats by … the postgame show by … the list goes on. Pretty soon every walk and every strikeout will have its own commercial association … How about “This walk brought to you by Dr. Scholls”; “This strikeout comes your way from your local Teamsters Union.”
The most grievous offenders have to be the NASCAR bunch. It’s not enough that every square inch of the racing car is plastered with some corporate decal … the uniform itself has more patches than a Boy Scout. When is the NFL going to wake up and allow their impoverished athletes to take advantage of this additional revenue source??
The wave of money is flooding into youth sports as well. Many high school leagues are enjoying the bucks from merchandising their exposure.
We have patches on our rec league teams; billboards on our outfield fence … the pristine look of former days has been replaced by permeating tackiness. Give Stanford some credit for bucking the trend and backing off from the proliferation of too many signs. But that was four years ago … are they still holding the line?
There is no plugging the manifold holes in this dike. Let the money flow!