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Founded by Ralph Nader, the mission of League of Fans is to improve sports by working as a sports industry watchdog to increase awareness of the industry's relationship to society, expose irresponsible business practices, ensure accountability to fans, and encourage the sports industry to contribute to societal well-being.
Commercialism in Sports
The widespread ad-plastering and marketeering that accompanies the hostile corporate takeover of so much of our culture and our country has arguably seen its biggest influence in the area of sports.
From sports apparel companies buying college athletic programs, to the commercial intrusion into high school sports by corporations looking for the next superstar, to the sale of naming rights of our publicly-funded stadiums and arenas to the highest corporate bidder, sports fans are drowning in an ocean of commercialism. It is reaching the point, in our professional and college sports, where advertizing is the program or attraction, and the games are reduced to clutter.
The sports industry has allowed itself to be dominated by corporations looking to own or control our culture. We, as fans and taxpayers have been forced into a situation where the teams we love and the politicians we elect allow marketers to buy or lay claim to every moment of our attention.
Sports fans across the country have become bitter because money, ads and hype are draining the fun out of sports. Even worse, what we pay for with our hard-earned dollars is the further degradation of culture and deterioration of the games we love, while commercial values are introduced and reinforced to new generations of sports fans.
The sports industry, like so much of our corporate-run society, seems determined to reduce our lives to just two purposes: compliance and consumption. Corporate advertisers have taken full advantage of the intangible satisfaction that sports entertainment brings to its fans. The popularity of sports has been translated into an industry cartel where loyal fans and their cities are taken for granted, and the arrogant commercial greed of this corporate takeover swallows our sports whole.
To counter this takeover, we must fight to draw attention to the overlooked abuses of commercialism in sports and reform the greed and excesses that the industry has produced. We need to work to bring sports back to the fans, and oppose those in the sports business who wish to destroy the character and virtues of sport with a commercialized vision where everything is for sale, and every waking moment is an occasion for an advertisement.
These problems of commercialism in sports are solvable. And it should be a goal, for all concerned, to hold the sports industry accountable and limit its commercial abuse of our society, culture, government, media and recreation. Therefore, we ought to depend on public problem solving and citizen participation in democracy to overcome the commercial injustices of the sports industry.
A few examples regarding the problems with commercialism in sports:
Advertizing patches on MLB uniforms:
Major League Baseball is considering selling patches of advertising on the uniform sleeves of its players as a way to increase team revenue. This goes beyond the uniform manufacturer's logo already present on the uniforms of teams in our major sports leagues and begins to emulate the walking commercial billboards on NASCAR drivers.
This is a choice between the integrity of our national pastime, and another greedy vehicle of corporate marketing. Fans have already shown that if commerce interferes too explicitly with baseball, they will drift away from the sport. Having already sold so much space in the ballparks that ads practically overlap each other with socially controversial mega-corporations, public patience is wearing thin.
Apparel company licensing deals in college athletics:
Thoughtless commerce has surpassed critical thought at our major public universities by allowing Nike, and other athletic apparel companies to buy the rights to college athletic departments through exclusive licensing and advertizing deals. In an era when college sports is big business, the games have become a nonstop commercial for these companies. These institutions have plastered apparel company logos on any available space throughout campus as well. Many of these contracts between universities and apparel companies even contain "no disparagement" clauses, whereby it is a violation of the contract for any employee of the university to criticize the brand name.
These are contracts against free speech rights in retaliation to the growing number of campus labor and human rights activists fighting for awareness of the sweatshop conditions under which sports apparel company products are made. We count on institutions of higher learning to keep the fight for basic rights alive and to keep the influence of big business from interfering with the truth. So, we must take notice when universities take corporate cash, sell pieces of the institutions, and negotiate away free speech rights by promising their silence to socially dubious athletic apparel companies.
Athletes selling skin for corporate advertizing tattoos:
To capitalize on the growing trend of tattoo-wearing by NBA players, corporations are now offering large sums of money to individual players to have their corporate logos tattooed onto players' bodies. While the NBA's collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from signing deals to place corporate advertisements on their uniforms, it makes no mention of placing ads on the exposed skin of players. But even though tattoos aren't explicitly addressed, NBA rules prohibit commercialization on the court beyond the uniform manufacturer's logos.
However, this then raises justified questions of an individual player's rights to freedom of speech. We must urge NBA players to turn down such offers from greedy corporations and hope that they realize the detrimental effects that commercial tattoos would have on the sport that they play, the children that idolize them, the fans that support them, and the society overrun by advertising.
College football bowl game sponsorships:
There exists today an intimidating era of commercialization in college football, a trend that does not bode well for the future of the institutions, the athletes, or the fans. Blatant commercialism in college football and corruption go hand in hand, the most obvious culprits of which are the increasingly lucrative bowl game sponsorship deals that have raised the stakes for universities to push harder and harder for that cash and cut more and more corners in the process.
We see the corruption right out in the open, especially in the major BCS bowl games, where often the most deserving teams do not get the invitation to these bowls because there are other "powerhouse" football institutions that can generate more money for the people deciding on these arrangements. This is only one example of the commercialization problems in college athletics that have removed the student from student-athlete and turned college football into professional-college football. The problems will surely grow unless the NCAA, conferences, and schools themselves take meaningful steps to curb the influence of money and commercialism in college athletics.
Commercial intrusion into amateur sports:
There are many guilty parties in and around the sports industry that have used their positions to exploit college, high school and even junior high athletes. Apparel companies and other corporations looking for the next Michael Jordan will stop at nothing in their quest to manipulate young athletes with promises of fame and fortune, just to sell more shoes.
Money funneled by corporations into amateur sports, especially basketball, has created an underground professionalism among college and high school athletes that has turned teenagers into walking billboards for shoe companies. This has become a very dark and corrupt business that employs high profile college coaches, recruiters and others to get close to kids and persuade them into endorsing their products at an early age.
Corporate stadium and arena naming rights deals:
First, a city and its taxpayers are threatened by team owners to pay for a new stadium or they will leave town. Then, after bitter debate while faced with losing its team, the city and state go ahead and use tax money to subsidize a stadium for those owners. To thank the taxpayers, the owners then sell the structure's naming rights to a corporation that wants you to say its name every time you talk sports. Does the money from that sale go back to the taxpayers? No, it goes straight into the pockets of owners, even though they made you subsidize the stadium.
This is the kind of ad-plastering that sickens sports fans and taxpayers. The corporate marketers have either bought or laid claim to so much of our culture that they have effectively stolen every moment of our attention. And this is just a stepping stone in the naming of public structures and entities. Coming to a city near you will be attempts by corporations to buy the naming rights to subway stations, libraries, schools, parks, clinics, police stations, museums, monuments and even entire neighborhoods.
It's time to reverse the trend. If our politicians refuse to put up a fight over corporate naming rights, often due to the fact that they are heavily funded by those corporations, then we must do what we can without them. There is no law that says that you have to call a sports venue what a big corporation wants you to call it. We should all exercise our freedom of speech and refuse to be advertisers for these greedy corporations. We should call these stadiums by nicknames and urge sports writers, and radio hosts to do the same. In addition, pledge to boycott any company that puts its name on a sports stadium, or any other public venue. For tradition, for integrity, for community, for sports fans and taxpayers, make your voices heard.
Super Bowl advertising bonanza:
The Super Bowl, or rather, the Super Bowl of commercials. The undisputed champion of excess advertising, marketing and commercialism. Sometimes an event becomes so representative of a culture and such a regular part of our lives that we don't realize what has happened to it or what it says about us.
One such event is the Super Bowl, a game which isn't much more than a backdrop for ads these days. Companies spend a fortune to buy up every bit of available ad space for this, by far the single most watched televised event year after year. And each year more space is sold. Pieces of the game like pre-game, halftime and post-game shows are sold off and renamed, as well as special camera footage and replays during the game. The Super Bowl is so saturated with ads that even advertisers are complaining about how crowded and cluttered it has become.
The media gives so much attention to the corporations that pay for the Super Bowl ads that the news surrounding the game becomes a commercial for these companies too. This commercial takeover of the Super Bowl reflects on a culture in which everything is for sale, including every moment of our attention. And for all this money and hype, the game itself certainly hasn't improved since it took a back seat to commercialism. Let's do what we can to reverse the trend. Resolve not to buy anything advertised during the Super Bowl and refuse to be a salesperson for these money-grubbing companies by avoiding the many post-game discussions about the ads. The more attention we give to them, the more we will be plastered by them.
Virtual advertizing on TV broadcasts of sporting events:
The purpose of marketing is to get a company's name, logo or product stuffed as far down the throats of consumers as possible. Sports marketing has proven the most effective, eclipsing all other forms of propaganda. A relatively new technology, dubbed as "virtual advertising" or "virtual signage," has exploded onto the sports marketing seen showing an unlimited potential for ad placement.
Developed by a company called Princeton Video Image (PVI), this advertising breakthrough uses the same technology that creates game enhancements such as the virtual first down line on televised football games. Using this virtual advertising technology, an ad can be electronically placed anywhere in a stadium or on a playing surface, making it look like the ad is actually a sign or painted onto the surface to a person watching on television, without actually physically existing in that stadium. We commonly see this now in baseball, from the center field shot of pitcher vs. batter, with a virtual ad on the wall behind home plate. It's increasingly used in all of the other major sports as well.
Innovations within virtual advertising are being developed, such as virtual ads that can be placed on moving objects. This is an extension of PVI's "EyeVision" which was first used for enhanced replays during Super Bowl XXXV, in 2001. This resource can certainly be used for beneficial, in game, enhancement purposes for the people viewing at home. But of course, as with any technology, these things can fall into the wrong hands and be exploited for profit-seeking purposes and advertising clutter. Another good idea gone very bad.
We can expect, in the near future, for sports teams and television networks to have the revenue-generating option of having virtual ads placed on each player's uniform, making it look like the players are endorsing these companies. How about shots of fans at the games with virtual ads all over their clothing? Or having the fans replaced in favor of virtual fans, making the stadium look like a sellout crowd of corporate endorsing disciples? Or the fans being replaced all together by huge virtual ad banners throughout the stands? Or the entire playing field as one, enormous advertisement? Or virtual advertising planes and blimps flying around overhead? The possibilities are endless, and they're right around the corner. Let's make sure this never happens.