February 15, 2001

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Last Sunday, one day after the XFL ran into the scheduled time slot for SNL causing NBC distress, another brouhaha was created between two acronyms — NASCAR and FOX. FOX, along with NBC and Turner Broadcasting, bought the TV rights to NASCAR in a $2.8 billion deal. Last weekend’s race debuted the knew alliance.

In an ingenious ploy to create more money for itself FOX digitally removed the logos of sponsors who did not also sponsor the network’s broadcast of the record setting Budweiser Shootout Challenge. Sunday’s event attracted more viewers than ever before, who saw cars missing their colorful decals.

Now FOX has to patch up its relationship with NASCAR, which relies on cars displaying more corporate sponsors than the Olympic broadcasts from Sydney.

But this just hints at a trend that is growing in sports. Sponsorship. The events are being overshadowed by the sponsors. FOX’s deplorable actions concerning the removal of logos received more coverage from ESPN.com and CNNSI.com and every other news worthy publication than did the winner of the race.

Each year people watch the Super Bowl to see the most anticipated commercials of the year, or for the MTV-Pespi-Visa-Heineken-Nike-Lays-Gateway-Amazon.com-McDonald’s-Dodge-and a half dozen other corporate sponsors half time shows, with live views from the Goodyear or Fuji blimp.

We know that tennis star Venus Williams signed the largest endorsement contract for a woman and golfer Tiger Woods gets gadzillions of dollars to bounce a golf ball on his wedge in front of a Buick or Nike swoosh.

The only way to get away from the shameless promotions and gimmicks is to actually attend the games. A commercial-free experience is only available by going there right? Wrong. Any visit to Continental Airlines Arena, PacBell Park or Pro-Player Stadium shows that corporate sponsors have reared their ugly heads into the forums.

After all, those commercial breaks need a counterpart in the stadiums to entertain fans while the networks collect money from the pre-sold air time. If a three-hour football game has one hour of actual playing, guess how much is allotted to blatant promotions, reminders of refreshments and advertisements for the official gear of (insert your preferred team here).

The games are not about win or lose, they are becoming another spectacle where everyone must be satisfied even if the home team (gasp) loses. The game is fading into the background while fan participation, contests and give-aways come to the forefront.

Even Cornell is not immune to the sponsorship debacle. Watching yet another sub-ten-year-old child being pushed by Cornell sports marketing interns onto the Subway “Find The Banner Contest”, I was wondering how low our glorious university would stoop in the sponsorship game.

Promotions have risen substantially at basketball games within the last year. Now with a Subway “Find the Banner Contest” of its own, a Subway Shootout, a shot for two free United Airlines tickets, and the new Red Zone, the games are an ode to capitalism.

Attending almost every game this season, I’ve witnessed dozens of people winning free subs as the fast-food chain tries to imprint its name on everything Cornell. I’ve even seen two people win airplane tickets — one by a three-quarters-court shot, and the other by a blind-folded free throw. But while these attractions have brought more people to the games, the contests take precedence over the game play. The sponsor’s name must be mentioned in the same room as hundreds of gullible college students.

It’s disappointing to see our alma mater succumb to the same fate as pro sports, although it is a nice change to see someone winning at the Cornell men’s basketball games.

People pay extra for the premium channels such as HBO, Showtime, and Encore because they provide commercial-free entertainment. The ever-lasting pursuit of more money between FOX and NASCAR should be abandoned for the good of the sport. The continual arguments and obsession of sponsorship will only decrease interest.

A Visa ad once told us to marvel at sport in this time of over-commercialization, before molding synchronized swimmers into the company’s name.

Realistically, though, no program could be shown without adequate financial support, the challenge is to keep the commercialism from detracting from the event.

But don’t worry about NASCAR. Lou D’Ermilio, vice president of FOX’s communication isn’t.

“Our sales department is made up of clever folks,” he said to CNNSI.com, “I’m sure they’ll find a way to please advertisers in some other way.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel