Hello all! I've been on a trans-Asian trip for the past month, which is why you haven't seen much of me over here at WTLC. But I'm working on getting myself back up to speed, and you'll be seeing me posting regularly again soon.
As I sat in Manila's Smart Araneta Center Coliseum during a Philippines Basketball Association game, I was already aware of the blatant commercialism that was going on around me. There was the typical things you'd see around the world, like the Arena's name being sponsored, billboards featured on the side of the arena, and annoying hot dog vendors. But, as I read Kelly Dwyer's Story on Ball Don't Lie about the NBA considering putting sponsorship on team's uniforms, I became even more aware of what was wrong with what I was watching. The game that had just finished was between Air 21 Express and the Talk N' Text Tropang Texters. The teams I saw play two days ago were named the Petron Blaze Boosters and the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. That's right, the very names of the teams were defined by their sponsor.
Closer to home, the movement of basketball teams towards jersey sponsorship is occurring. The WNBA recently allowed its' teams to pick up sponsors, leading to the deletion of the team name on the jersey altogether in favor of the sponsor, leading to some horrifically ugly jerseys. Even international basketball is guilty of this, with nearly every team at the 2011 Eurobasket featuring a sponsorship logo somewhere on their jersey.
The reason for this sudden acceptance of sponsorship is obvious. To quote Uncle Phil of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air:
I'd like to impart some words I've always lived by....Mo' Money, Mo' Money, Mo' Money.
But where do you draw the line? How much money is enough? There's a thin ring of video board surrounding the inside of the arena, with the sole purpose of throwing moving advertisements at you. Ads for Homeland or Dub Richardson are constantly flying at you on the big screen. The entire upper section of the bowl is named after Loves. Heck, sometimes regular commercials will play before and after the game on the big screen. And it's not like we're getting this product for free. Concession prices are outrageous by restaurant standards, and the cheapest seat in the house is going to cost you $15. If all of this wasn't enough, they've actually engineered the game to unnaturally stop to allow for TV commercials and in-arena events. And when you get right down to it, in-arena events are just glorified commercials.
Below: Why team jerseys are sacred, and why this would be a horrible move in the long term!
Considering the above, how much of a step would it be, really, to put a Mathis Brothers logo on the Thunder jersey? From there, how much further of a step is it to start calling the Thunder the "Oklahoma City Thunder Sponsored by Mathis Brothers"? Heck, why don't we just stop calling them the Thunder altogether, and name the team the Mathis Brothers Furniture Trucks? If you think this amount of corporate control will never happen, consider this: When Chesapeake Energy took over the naming rights to the Oklahoma City Arena prior to this season, they changed the design on the court to fit with their corporate image (by eliminating yellow).
But before I go off the cliff on a rant about how invasive ads have become, let's take a moment to consider what makes NBA team jerseys so sacred in the first place. What makes them any different from the Arena name, the ad space in the game program, or the ads on TV? The teams are already owned by corporate businessmen, aren't they?
My primary defense comes from the fact that the team is a corporation in itself. It can be bought and moved (sorry again, Seattle), and it exists to make a profit. Think of it this way. How would you feel if you walked into McDonald's and saw the employees wearing AutoZone T-Shirts? Obviously it'd be pretty nonsensical. Or went to McDonald's headquarters and saw a big AutoZone sign on it? Sure, AutoZone doesn't compete directly with McDonald's, and the sponsorship makes McDonald's money in the short term. But what happens in the long-term? What happens when people think about auto parts when they think about where they're going to eat? What happens when AutoZone ends their sponsorship, and your entire staff has to change uniforms?
Secondly, the uniforms are sellers in themselves. First-hand, I can say that I would never buy a Thunder jersey with a sponsor featured prominently on it. Who in their right mind would spend over a hundred dollars on a jersey that's just a glorified billboard? You might point to soccer and how much money those teams make, but jerseys aren't nearly as mainstream in that sport. If one wants to support their team, they usually go with scarves, flags, or signs. All of which are less expensive and do much less to show which team you support.
Thirdly, look at all of the other major pro sports in the United States. The NFL would scoff at the idea of sponsoring uniforms (especially given that team logos never change). I think some MLB diehards would faint at the idea of seeing Taco Bell on the Yankee pinstripes. And despite some serious financial problems in the NHL, uniform sponsorship hasn't even been considered. Of course, you can point to things that are sponsored, like NASCAR and the MLS. But those are special cases. In every single type of motorsport, sponsorship is present at every level. No exceptions. It's an extremely expensive endeavor, with some NASCAR teams opting not to finish the race because they can't afford tires. The teams only have sponsorship and prize money as a source of income. Without sponsorship, motorsports could not exist. The same goes for leagues like the MLS. The market for those leagues is simply not big enough to support them without sponsorship at the level they want to play at. It wasn't too long ago that MLS teams were folding, which is very different from the NBA's current situation.
Ultimately, though, there may be nothing we can do to stop this invasion of advertisement into our lives. Owners are seeing dollar signs, and many of them will stop at nothing to make a profit. Despite what fans or even players might think, the NBA can do whatever they want with their own product, and there's not a darned thing we can do to stop it.
Regardless, if this goes down, it's a terrible move for everyone involved. I'm confident NBA executives would live to regret this 10 years down the road. Think about this: How many of you watch Primetime Network TV Shows, straight through? Commercials and all? Probably almost none of you. We have DVRs, Hulu, Netflix, DVDs, and Ukrainian guys uploading clips to Youtube while sitting in their underwear. If something becomes only watchable with tons of ads in it, interest in the actual thing declines unless a way is found around it. Since advertisements on NBA uniforms are something that cannot be removed from the product altogether, it's something that would decrease general interest in the league and ruin its image. Would team sponsorship destroy the NBA altogether? Perhaps not, but I'll be damned if I'm going to be watching a NBA game 10 years from now featuring the Texters and the Elasto Painters.
What do you think about NBA teams potentially putting advertisements on their uniforms? Vote in the poll, post a comment!