Slapping Logos, and Morals, on Pro Athletes
There's no question that the ever-increasing commercialization of sports will eventually lead to ads emblazoned on the player uniforms in U.S. pro leagues. It just won't start with hockey.
After a recent meeting of team presidents, the National Hockey League once again decided to forgo an estimated $120 million bounty from allowing corporate sponsors' logos on jerseys. You might think it's because the league most beholden to its tradition would be particularly averse to radically altering its uniforms. Or, perhaps, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recognizes the inherent contradiction in having a constant, visual reminder of corporate America's entrenchment in a sport so proud of its blue-collar image. (An image that bears little resemblance to its actual fan demographics.)
But as it turns out, the NHL may not be that resistant to selling out -- it just doesn't want to be the first league to do so. "Gary and owners like the money, but they don't want to be first out of the box with this in North America," an unnamed source told TSN. "They'll wait for the NBA or baseball to do it and then be second or third."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and MLB commissioner Bud Selig have repeatedly denied moving toward jersey ads. That's likely to change, at least in baseball, where incoming commissioner Rob Manfred could face increasing pressure to find new revenue streams. Recent signs point to the NBA as most likely to lead the charge in jersey ads. In June, ESPN reported that the league is moving its famous Jerry West logo from the upper-chest area to the back of the uniform, which many speculated was to make room for ads on the front some day.
We live in a sports world of arenas named after companies, logos covering every inch of a stadium, televised commercials affecting the pace of game, and product placement in everything from the Kiss Cam to the nightly trivia question, I'm weary of anything that makes attending a game even more like walking through a mall in "Minority Report." Who wants the constant reminder of real-world corporations benefiting from all that money you're spending on an escape from reality?
But maybe there's an unseen benefit in that permanent corporate presence. As the NFL has demonstrated, leagues are beholden to little other than their owners and sponsors. Pressure from fans and politicians are well and good, but it really takes pressure from marketing partners to spur real action.The Minnesota Vikings had no problem at first reinstating Adrian Peterson, even though the team had to know it wouldn't go over well with anyone who stands against child abuse. But when Radisson hotels suspended its sponsorship, the Vikings put Peterson on ice.
It's no coincidence that Radisson's announcement came almost immediately after a press conference in which General Manager Rick Spielman attempted to explain Peterson's reinstatement while standing in front of a backdrop covered in the hotel chain's logo. The visual association of the Radisson brand with the team's colossal mismanagement of the situation was apparently too much for the company to handle.
Imagine, then, if the logos of Radisson and other Vikings sponsors were prominently featured on the team's jersey? If the image of Adrian Peterson suiting up on Sunday amid child abuse charges automatically called to mind corporate brands? I'd be willing to bet the calls to deactivate him would have come much sooner.
The increasing commercialization of sports is a bitter pill, but it's slightly easier to swallow if these companies decide that that forcing leagues to make proper ethical decisions is their best brand strategy.
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