Over at Pro Basketball Talk Dan Feldman talks about the NBA’s decision to start allowing advertisements on jerseys. It’s a pilot-program and will only allow for a shoulder patch for the first two years, but it’s the camel’s nose under the tent. There will be more eventually. And people will get used to it. People have gotten used to copious amounts of advertising in sports, from sponsored arenas, sponsored courts and fields, sponsored time outs, sponsored touchdowns, goals and grand slams. In soccer and on special occasions in other sports there is already a ton of advertising. NASCAR has made sponsorship an essential part of its sport as has soccer.
It would be my preference not to see baseball uniforms go this route as I think they’re aesthetically pleasing parts of the game in and of themselves. But it’s inevitable. If there is a chance for leagues and sponsors to make money and if it doesn’t cause them to lose fans (i.e. lose money) they will take it. You can say you’ll give up baseball if they put Coca-Cola ads on the sleeves, but you’re lying to yourself about that. You and I will complain and grumble and then we’ll get used to it. At some point, after a couple of years, we’ll start talking about which ads look better and which ones look worse and applaud particularly savvy and pleasing looking logos.
In some ways it’ll be clarifying, even if it’s annoying. Sports teams have had it both ways for a long time. They’ve worked to make a buck off of anything that isn’t nailed down all the while pretending to be something greater than any other business. They play on our nostalgia and our loyalty in order to portray themselves as something akin to a public trust or institution, entitling themselves to perks no other businesses get and the avoidance of regulation. By turning players into walking billboards, perhaps the four major North American sports will inadvertently make some folks realize that they are just businesses and that they aren’t deserving of such special treatment.
In the meantime, I’d still watch baseball. The game wouldn’t change. I’d consume it just like I watch Marvel movies, drink Kentucky bourbon and drive a Subaru. With a certain loyalty earned by a product that I have enjoyed and which has made it worth my while, but a product not entitled to some sort of special treatment or status from me beyond the enjoyment it provides.