March 16, 2017

Does Everything Have A Sponsor?

There was a time when I loved American advertising. When I first moved here as a kid from England in 1979 one of the things I loved most about the United States was that there were conspicuous and unapologetic posters, commercials, billboards, signs and everything else you could imagine urging you to buy! buy! buy! whatever it was they were selling. Coming from a more reserved society where the primary TV channel didn't even advertise anything, America in the late '70s was a breath of fresh air for a kid ready to fall in love with blatant commercialism.

38 years on, I feel differently. Sure, I still love the art and flashiness of billboards and signs and even TV commercials. I'm especially a sucker for beer advertisements. I have a few signs and other things scattered about my condo and a whole collection of other breweriana stowed away under my bed just waiting for the right time to bring it out into the light of day. But lately, and especially in the NBA, I feel things are going too far. I remember (and here I'm going to sound like I'm about 75 years old) back in the day when signage was reserved for select spots at Verizon Center; now it seems like it's everywhere.

Check out the ends of the arena where the Wizards play their home games and all you will see is Etihad Airlines signage. Look to the court for the Verizon logo. Walk in the main entrance on F Street and you can't help but see the primary advertising partners of the building just to the left of the doors. Park your car in the building and you'll be in the Lexus Garage.

Even the stanchion behind the basket is festooned with commercials. Earlier this season you could get by with the Tissot shot clock, the State Farm logo on the horizontal arm right behind the basket and the rotating video display a little bit further back. But then Libman, who apparently makes mops, took over the rest of the portable backboard, complete with a pair of Libman outfitted floor wipers at each end of the court. We've come a long way since the days when the team used to wrap a towel around a squeegee to clean the sweat off the wood. In Toronto they've taken it one step further and sold advertising space on the top of the backboard. I'm sure the Wizards will get there eventually.

And here's a news flash: it's only going to get worse. Next year we are going to see advertising patches on the players' uniforms, a la English soccer or the WNBA, although admittedly not as prominent as they are on either of those sports' kits. Not yet anyway. The Wizards haven't announced which company's logo will be inartistically plastered on the upper left shoulder of our players' jerseys. My money is on Etihad or MGM, for the record. As if all that wasn't bad enough, there's going to be a Nike logo on there as well, the first time the NBA has allowed a manufacturer's label on their shorts or shirts. All this while ticket prices continue to go up. This league is almost literally minting money.

But I'm not writing this post to complain about corporate sponsorship of the building the Wizards play in or the clothing they wear while doing it. And I swear I really sound like I'm some crusty remember-when septuagenarian.

Boston's 2017-2018 kit, complete with green and white GE logo. Ugh...
No, I'm writing this post to complain about what they did to the NBA Development League last month when they changed the name of the league. That's right, starting with the 2017-2018 season, the NBDL or D-League won't be called that anymore. Starting this fall, it's going to be known as the G-League, which is short for the Gatorade League. They sold the naming rights to the whole freaking league. And I'm not on board.

Now this is not without precedent. For years, England's Premier League, the top soccer league in the world, was known as the Barclay's Premier League because it was sponsored by the bank of the same name. But they have since recently abandoned the sponsorship and the league hasn't seen fit to replace them with a new sponsor, despite the 40 million pounds in lost sponsorship money per year. I get this is not the NBA we are talking about picking up a sponsor, but it's a slippery slope, especially when Gatorade have taken over the entire league title. I could see it being the Gatorade D-League or something like that but that's not the way it's going.

There are a couple of good points. First, I guess I'm OK with more sponsorship at the minor league level if it keeps it out of the parent league. However, since the NBA gets more and more sponsored each year, I'm not optimistic it will. I can easily see a day a decade or so from now when it's the Kia Association (or the K-Association?) or something similarly nonsensical as that. Second, players are no longer going to have the stigma of being sent to the "development" league, like it's some remedial performance improvement plan. I'm not sure the G-League is worlds better but it doesn't sound like a punishment anymore.

I also have to wonder will any other sports beverages be permitted in the G-League other than Gatorade? Will Powerade or similar brands be allowed at all or maybe just with their labels removed? Of course, it didn't seem like Powerade did LeBron James any good in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals but I guess some players still might opt for a brand other than Gatorade. Is there going to be that much separation of church and state in the G-League?

As if all that weren't enough, Gatorade even got the logo of the league changed, from the right leaning red, white and blue (to match the NBA) D-League player dunking logo to a monochrome more upright logo.

I'm not a fan of any of this. I'll take the advertisements plastered all over the walls, floors and ceilings (including the underside of escalators) of Verizon Center. I'm even OK with Libman mops shirt wearing floor wiper guys. But I think selling out an entire league by changing the name and logo of the league is just too much. Call me old-fashioned if you will.

New logo. I'm not on board. Isn't the name as a prefix to the league name enough? Guess not..

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