Doug Robinson: Forget tradition, it's all about the ad money now

Published: Tuesday, April 3 2012 12:06 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz' Derrick Favors (15) plays during an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Atlanta.

Associated Press

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Maybe you're a traditionalist who thinks that putting McDonald's arches on the Utah Jazz jersey or the iconic green and gold uniform of the Green Bay Packers is tantamount to hanging a Coke sign on the wall of a cathedral.

Or maybe you're a cynic who's resigned to soccer and NASCAR uniforms doubling as billboards for ED medicine and consulting firms — or arenas named after a waste-disposal company.

Maybe you're both.

It doesn't matter: It's coming to a team near you. All of it.

Later this month, the NBA board of governors will decide whether to place advertisements on its jerseys. Let's face it: It's going to happen; if not now, then soon. Like the Kardashians, it won't go away. It is a decision believed to be worth more than $200 million to the league. That's all you need to know.

Sports is corporate America disguised as our favorite old sports teams, and the marriage with Madison Avenue and TV is so tight that it's difficult to tell one from the other. Advertisers are worming there way onto the scene every way possible and pro sports teams are trying to squeeze every nickel out of their teams even if it means selling standing-only tickets to the Super Bowl. Our pop culture saw the excess coming a long time ago. Rocky Balboa wore the logo of a meat-packing plant on his shorts. The original Bad New Bears wore jerseys featuring Chico's Bail Bonds. Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby raced cars in a Wonder Bread uniform behind a windshield emblazed with a Fig Newton that obscured his vision.

Manchester United, the English soccer team, doesn't even have the team name on the jersey; it has "AON," the consulting firm that sponsors the team. Before that, Manchester's jersey featured AIG and before that SHARP. Can the day be far behind that UTAH JAZZ will be replaced by ENERGY SOLUTIONS?

We are bombarded everywhere else, so why not uniforms. We watch TV with tiny ads (often in the form of miniaturized TV characters) in the corner of the screen, advertising another show. A nice fall afternoon in a college football stadium is interrupted by plane dragging banners across the sky. Every foot of land along our roadways is covered with signage. Athletic fields are surrounded by revolving signs and neon ads. Halftime shows aren't halftime shows — they're the Jones Paint & Glass Halftime Show, highlighting a touchdown in the Papa John's end zone. Bowl games are named after corn chips.

It's annoying, but we hardly give it a second thought — or at least not until NBA uniforms fall into line. So what if the Euros' soccer "kit" is covered with ads, as proponents argue.

Nothing is sacred anymore, not even prep sports. In January, the National Federation of High School Sports passed a rule that will allow high schools to sell ad space on their football fields. The vote was 44-6. Last year the federation sent a questionnaire to the nation's coaches, officials and state associations that included a question about the field ads. The vote: 3,853-3,348 in favor.

Rob Cuff, executive director of the Utah High School Activities Association, who also serves as chairman of the national federations games administrative committee, voted against it.

"I guess I'm more of a traditionalist," he said. "A football field ought to look like a football field and not a billboard."

The state board is allowing each high school to make its own decision regarding field ads, but you can pretty much bet what those decisions will be when schools are desperate to find new ways to finance their sports. Not that we have to like it.

"I don't think a football field should look like a checkerboard," says Cuff. "It has that potential. If it has only one logo on each side of the field at the 40, it might look OK. If you have them every five yards, it will look like the outfield fence in baseball."

That's what observers are saying about professional jerseys. They'll probably start with a sponsor patch or two that aren't overly intrusive — then eventually they'll take over the entire jersey.

For the younger generation, this is probably much ado about nothing, although we'll see how they feel about buying Kobe Bryant's jersey with a Dunkin' Donuts ad on it.

For the older generation, all this is another adieu to the game they grew up with. First, artificial fields and domes; now this. They will miss the simplicity of an unfettered Celtics or Packers jersey, which will soon give way to the Road Warrior look that has overtaken the University of Oregon (Nike has become the league's new jersey provider and promises dramatic changes).

An athletic field — a baseball diamond, a gridiron, a pitch, a track — is a beautiful thing to many, and something is lost with the intrusion of Madison Avenue. The baseball diamond that was carved out of a cornfield served as a forum for nostalgia, healing and love in the movie "Field of Dreams." It consisted of acres of pristine, emerald-green grass under a dazzling blue sky, bordered by corn. Is this heaven, visitors want to know? No, it's a baseball field in Iowa — SPONSORED BY DUNKIN' DONUTS

Email: drob@desnews.com

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