Advertising and Sports

Eric Ball@@BigLeagueEballFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2009

HOUSTON - JULY 31:  A Houston Texans helmet sits on a stack of Gatorade during practice on July 31, 2009 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Advertising and sports go together as much as peanut butter and jelly.

Every aspect from stadium signs to T.V. commercials plays a role. Advertisers paid a record breaking $2.25 million for a 30 second commercial during this year’s Super Bowl according to Business Weekly. The stakes are high and advertising money helps the sports world go round.

As anyone who likes (or dislikes) sports can indicate, it is impossible to turn on the television and not find a sporting event. Advertising also is universal. No matter where you look, someone or some company is marketing their product; it's unavoidable.
Sports figures are all over advertising; they are the spokesperson for apparel and drink companies to products completely unrelated to their sport, such as watches and cars.

NHL teams have sold advertising on the boards that surround the ice and have permitted teams to sell logos to appear on the ice itself. Though the NFL does not allow corporate advertising to appear on playing surfaces, Pepsi will pay the league $180 million over the next four years for the rights to place Gatorade coolers, cups and towels with the sports drink maker's logo on sidelines according to Business Weekly.

Colleges also rely on advertising revenue for a variety of reasons. The Ohio University Bobcat athletic department generates millions of dollars of marketing exposure for the university on national, regional and local levels. As of September, Ohio University had 31 different corporate partners.

Football games on ESPN, newspaper articles and radio and television reports from around the country bring awareness and consideration to the university. All forms of marketing aid in enrollment decisions by students, and in turn, boost funding steadiness for all areas of the campus.

Although athletics provide many benefits, it comes at a cost to fund a Division I-A program. Athletics, like other campus units, aren’t financially self-supporting. Interestingly, only five percent of Division I athletic programs generate a profit. Therefore, universities have to find way’s to keep funding the coaching staff, stadium’s, travel and other expenses.

The financial implications of advertising in sports cannot be ignored. Major League Baseball tried to take it a step too far. In 2004 Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios struck a deal that would place webbed logos of the upcoming film "Spider-Man 2" on bases and on-deck circles. Columbia thought it was an excellent idea.

"This is the perfect alliance between two quintessential national pastimes… baseball and movie-going," Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, said in a statement.

But others saw this as just another example of corporate greed.

"Some will say this reinforces the convergence of sports and entertainment, while others will suggest the only thing converging is bad taste," said David Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group, a sports marketing firm.

In the end the reported $3.6 million deal was axed and baseball purists rejoiced. Chalk up one win for the purists.

Greg Polgar, Director of Marketing for Ohio University athletics, says the key is having multiple partnerships with the corporations, but not to over do it.

“The average fan takes offense to a sport that effectively uses its players as walking billboards. Our goal is to find that fine line that makes everyone happy,” Polgar said.

In truth, the sports world is only mirroring the rest of society. Beverage companies often pay schools to allow installation of their vending machines. Video game publisher Activision and Nielsen, which measures television ratings, formed a partnership to monitor corporate advertising in video games.

In the end it appears that the 21st century has created an un-identifiable line for advertisers. As we move forward the line will only continue to be blurred unless some sort of precedent is set by the sports themselves.


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