Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Apocalypse Begins Now

It was bound to happen. Crusty, cynical old writers have been warning us for years that the day was coming.

Well, here it is: your first professional sports team to stick sponsors on their uniform. Ladies and Gents, I give you the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.

The team is struggling financially so it signed a million dollar deal with Tempe based LifeLock to sponsor the team. This makes the Mercury the first team in the United States (outside of motor sports) to officially advertise on the team uniforms.

And we're not talking about a small patch at the corner of the jersey. Instead of saying "Phoenix" or "Mercury" on the chest of the uniform, it will say "LifeLock". It is the ultimate sell out, the team will be called the Phoenix Mercury in name only. Everyone else will call them the LifeLocks.

I'm aware this is just the WNBA, a league that has struggled financially forever. I doubt this will raise many flags or cause rioting in the streets.

So far, Major League Baseball has gone out of its way to let us know that the league is not listening to any hortatory offers from potential corporate sponsors.

Mercury chief executive Rick Welts has also said that he doesn't expect any of the major U.S. sports to attempt uniform sponsorship though he did try to take a Pep
si-like approach to his statement. Welts said "the 50-year-old White male sports talk-show host may see this as a sign of the apocalypse, but the WNBA fan will see this as a sign of strength and forward thinking."

Get it? If you're an old tired white guy who spends his time bitching about any changes made in sports since the 1960's and doesn't trust computers, you probably won't like this. But if you're a progressive thinker who is down with the modern world, you see this as a positive. We're cool!

I'm not a 50 year old white guy (yet), but I don't want sponsors plastered all over team uniforms like a NASCAR event. What's happening on the field/ice/playing surface should be the game. Not the sponsors. There are already 120 sponsors plastered all over the stadium. There are time outs taken during games specifically for television commercials to run. Many of the new stadiums don't have room for the basic fan anymore because it's all about corporate luxury boxes or box seats. The atmosphere of games has already been ruined because these corporate types wander in somewhere in the middle of the first quarter, spend the game talking business and then have left for the bar by the time the game is over. If you have any questions about this, just go watch a game at Yankee Stadium. That should sum it up nicely.

I know Europe has sponsors all over the uniform, but we aren't Europe. If American sports fans want to adopt the European lifestyle and sports watching traditions, then go ahead with the naming rights (I'd rather enjoy the extra vacation days.) Until then, leave us alone. It was bad enough watching the original Dream Team stand on the gold medal platform and try to hide the Reebok sponsor on their warm up suits because many of the guys were Nike clients.

Professional sports, like any business, is about profit. But sports is also a community event and since the public usually finances new stadiums, I think teams belong partially to the city as well. As soon as teams begin wearing sponsors instead of the team name, they've cut off the final connection to the masses of fans that live and die with the team. After that, where do you go?

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to buy myself a Denver Coors jersey (formerly known as the Denver Broncos).


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