Recently the New York Yankees paid tribute to the late baseball great Phil Rizzuto in a touching ceremony before a home game. There were words of remembrance in front of tens of thousands of fans and the playing of Taps to honor the passing of Rizzuto. There was also a large MasterCard logo on the ceremonial podium. As corporate sponsorship becomes a larger part of major league sports, it raises the question of what can't be bought. Or better yet, what shouldn't be bought?
As sports fans we have become inundated by corporate logos as companies scramble to stick their brand on every aspect of the game. For a corporate name it is the perfect way to gain exposure with a large target demographic, but at some point it stops becoming smart and starts becoming offensive. In Major League Soccer, a number of teams do not wear their team names on their jerseys, rather the name of their highest paying sponsor. The New York Red Bulls, formerly the Metrostars, even changed their name when the energy drink company bought the team. Not only does this make each player a walking advertisement, but also any fan who buys and wears the jersey. It might not be long before other sports follow suit. Imagine the Yankees pinstripes, easily the most famous jersey in major league sports, bearing that MasterCard logo. Or worse yet, becoming the New York MasterCards.
Sports sponsorship investing in the US, which according to eMarketer accounted for $8.9 billion in spending last year, has left outside companies scrambling to get a piece of the pie. VNU, the company who owns data research brands such as Nielsen Media Research and Billboard, recently introduced a service called Sponsorship Scorecard, which allows companies, teams, and sports leagues to track the return on their sponsorship investment of televised sporting events. Through research, they can determine which sponsorships will put a companies brand in front of the highest number of consumers. All of this comes at a cost to the corporations which is then passed down to the consumer in the form of higher ticket prices and raised consumer retail values.
So who wins? First and foremost, the team owners who pocket millions by selling ad and logo space to hungry corporate suits. Hired public relations and marketing firms get paid hefty retainers to find appropriate opportunities, including the misguided recommendation of the aforementioned podium sponsorship. And finally the corporate sponsors themselves, who get to place their brand in front of millions of paying consumers.
In the end, the fans and consumers pay the highest price. They buy products at a cost inflated to cover the expense of the sponsorships, marketing, research and public relations retainers. They pay top dollar for team jerseys, only to wear them and provide free advertising for the company whose name is emblazoned across the front. And they have their emotional moments of tribute intruded upon by the inconsiderate exploitation of the passing of a legend.