And now, a message from our sponsor …
December 1, 2003
Welcome to this week’s column, brought to you by Chico’s Bail Bonds. If you’re in jail with need for bail, we’ll be there without fail.
It hasn’t come to that, thanks to good old print journalism standards. Not to sound self-righteous, but we may be the last holdout against the rising tide of barbarians at the gate.
As a sports fan watching football on television this weekend, I was struck by the invasion of advertisements into the broadcasts.
Sure, advertising drives television, always has. But it used to be just the commercial breaks that made me hit the mute button. I remember when every element of a game wasn’t simply a vehicle for pushing product, when what happened on the field was what mattered. Now watching a game is like walking onto a used car lot.
We are inundated with advertisements for every service, company and product imaginable. Cars, insurance, investments, shipping services, beer, cellular phones, credit cards, prescription drugs and Internet access: I now have plans to buy, lease, rent or apply for most of these things, all thanks to the good folks at Fox, CBS, ESPN and ABC. I don’t watch figure skating, Arena football or golf, so NBC didn’t make the list.
I must admit, some of these in-program ads were a little ineffective for me. I already drive a Tercel, so the Toyota Halftime Report (presented by Toyota) had little effect on me. I have two credit cards, so the Visa Halftime Report and the Visa Skycam didn’t perk up my ears. And the Coors Light Silver Bullet Spotlight won’t be bringing my business back to the company that was largely responsible for extending my distinguished college career by more than a year.
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But as an eager (OK, sheep-like) consumer and football fan, I feel it is my duty to use the products I see on Saturday and Sunday. Fox NFL Sunday by UPS has determined my shipping plans for the next year, while the AFLAC Trivia Quiz has stimulated my brain into feeling the need for life insurance, home insurance and fire insurance. Just because I have no dependents, don’t own a home and have 3 feet of snow around my apartment won’t throw me off track.
I’ll be making my calls on a cell phone from now on, thanks to the Nextel Halftime Report (clearly the most interesting of the halftime reports). I’ll be making some new investments after seeing the Wachovia Unique Perspective (they do investments, right?) and undertaking some construction projects as a weekly viewer of Home Depot College Gameday.
Thank god I’m not a Chicago Bears fan. I’d have to switch banks after my team this year suddenly became The Chicago Bears Presented by Bank One, and I don’t think there are any branches here in Tahoe.
The only ad that left me helpless was the little computer-generated America Online guy running across the first-down line. As a cell phone user, I don’t have Internet access at my apartment. Sorry guys, I’ll try to do better in the future.
I shouldn’t single out football. Baseball is just as bad, with the SBC Call to the Bullpen, lineups presented by Mastercard and dueling beer promos. The San Diego Padres’ stadium was once named for a grand old sportswriter (Jack Murphy) but was renamed when a company called Qualcomm coughed up some cash. Now the Padres are moving into PETCO Park. Classy.
I’d try to attack basketball, but I haven’t watched an NBA game since the players wore shorts that stopped above the knee.
The real shame is that the blame for this movement can be traced back to my favorite sport, soccer. Soccer was always a tough sell for television, as there aren’t any commercial breaks built in other than halftime. Then someone came up with the idea of having small display ads in the upper corner of the screen, allowing networks to show the entire game without interruption. It was a brilliant concept for those of us who wanted more soccer on television, but it put us on a slippery slope that dropped us into the muck.
It’s not just advertisers responsible for this. The networks are just as guilty. Who can forget seeing every actor on the new Fox shows in the stands during the World Series? “Oh, and look, there are the stars of The Mullets sitting right behind the dugout. That show looks hilarious, doesn’t it, Bob? Nothing’s funnier than stupid people living in trailers!”
I believe network cross-promotion reached its height in 2001. For my money there was never a moment that walked the edge between hilarity and discomfort more finely than hearing dignified, grandfatherly Pat Summerall intone, “Tonight on “Fastlane,” Jake and Rob are trapped into a threesome with a senior citizen, while Amber has a strange visit to her gynecologist!”
It might not be long before we tune into a game and hear “This pass interference call is brought to you by Rolex,” or “Here are the first three pitches of the inning, presented by Viagra.”
Of course, journalistic standards will keep this column sponsor-free. At least until the day I start every Monday by typing “Welcome to this week’s column, being written from inside our new home here inside the dancers’ locker room at fabulous Harrah’s.”
– Tribune sportswriter Jared Green can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or firstname.lastname@example.org