Sport biz: Fashion statement

Cowards, I say! The people who run the NBA are cowards! Took a perfectly good opportunity to slam-dunk an easy-money scheme and dropped it like a bad bounce pass. Where, oh where, is exploitative capitalism when you need it?

You probably heard. Before the season began, the NBA nixed a contemplated plan to festoon the uniforms of its teams with sponsored logos affixed as patches on the front sides of jerseys. Thus, the league summarily denied fans who have paid good money for courtside seats the chance to see what a Gatorade logo looks like when it’s slathered with armpit sweat.

But forget the aesthetics. There was money! Money to be made! And yet the league allowed it to vanish like an air ball. The NBA’s estimate – and yes it was probably nonsense but an estimate still – suggested NBA teams collectively could have generated $100 million-plus per season by sewing logo-ized patches onto uniforms.

We lament what could have been. As did clever NBA fans who took to Twitter to make helpful suggestions to the league office about appropriate sponsorships for teams. Local fans, for example, urged the Nuggets to forge a win-win alliance with McDonald’s Corp. so that the team could establish a bond with particle-chicken treats, thereby opening the window for the ultimate in sports-branding: the Denver McNuggets.

The NBA’s shrinking-violet decision was a cold, calculated and heartless demonstration of restraint that represents an open slap to one of our greatest sports traditions, which is to make sure that the games and players do not intrude unnecessarily on the ability of fans to be advertised to.

Thank goodness there are bolder leaders at work in sports like NASCAR, which long ago embraced the concept of dressing souped-up stock cars in colorful pajamas featuring corporate logos. Better still is the example set by Major League Soccer, which has boldly erased the line between teams and sponsors altogether by allowing a marquee franchise to be named after a product. The New York Red Bulls, owned by the company that makes the iconic energy beverage, represents the epitome of brave sports merchandising and should be looked at as the model for teams and leagues going forward. Why stop at merely slapping logos on helmets and TV commercials on scoreboards when we can effect the ultimate in harmonic sports-advertiser convergence by naming teams after beer and trucks? When the Dallas Chryslers kick off to the Geico Colts in Super Bowl XLVIII, our dream will be fulfilled.

But it’s going to take more guts than the NBA and other Big Four sports leagues have displayed. Basketball’s cowardice here reminds us of a similarly milquetoast decision by Major League Baseball in 2004. Remember when MLB callously spurned a proposal from the movie studio Columbia Pictures to adorn the bases at MLB ballparks with images from the movie “Spider Man 2”? That set us back years. Had baseball displayed a little corporate backbone, we wouldn’t be saddled today with those pedestrian, dingy-white bases players tend to scuff up with their spikes. By now, every ballpark would feature cleverly branded bases sporting colorful advertisements for movies, soft drinks and erectile-dysfunction drugs. But
no. We’re left with only sad reminders of the game’s origins.

Sigh. Someday, this will all be over. Fans will be able to enjoy ballgames without having to worry about the distractions posed by players and scores. Leagues will bathe in riches, and advertisers will finally enjoy their rightful place as rulers of the sports kingdom. Until then, Coloradans will have to trudge to NBA games showcasing players in uniforms that feature nothing more than team names and logos. But at least they’ll be playing at a building called Pepsi Center.