Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity


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Is There Room for Sports to Get Even More Commercialized?

This article by Pinsker (2016) does a great job declaring from the start that sponsorships on jerseys are inevitable. This is understandable because an extra $5 million for the Philadelphia 76ers is hard to turn down for something as simple as a small logo on the left chest/shoulder of the jersey. When thinking specifically about the NHL I see several teams (Winnipeg, Arizona, Florida) that would love to have the extra revenue to help either on the business side or hockey side. However, one area that I think the article discounts quite easily is the impact fans have on professional sports. Looking at the Detroit Red Wings as an example they recently opened their new arena, Little Caesars Arena, in October 2017. Moving from the legendary Joe Louis Arena (named after Detroit boxer Joe Louis) to an arena attached to corporate sponsorship was met with negative backlash (Pevos, 2017) from fans of the Red Wings and NHL fans in general (especially when the Little Caesar’s logo was placed on the roof). The deal was final so there was nothing Detroit could do about it, but this should illustrate that the implementation of corporate sponsorship into aspects of sport that are not accustomed to them will receive a negative reaction from fans. I know the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens could put virtually anything on their jerseys and still make huge profits, but what if the Florida Panthers upset their fans or the Arizona Coyotes?

The notion that there will be sponsorships on North American professional sports jerseys in the future has been troubling to most fans. One possible reason for this is that even though professional sports franchises are for profit enterprises, the illusion that professional sports is about competition and athleticism still exists among most fans. From the fans perspective the jersey is a part of their identity, both physically and subjectively. Jerseys are part of their identity physically in the sense that fans can buy and wear “their” teams jersey and subjectively because the identifiable aspects of their fandom include the jersey (logo, colours, etc.). As stated by Pinsker the jersey is the last untapped frontier of revenue in US sports. The fact that this is one of the few aspects of sport that is still sacred without commercialized interest’s means that it will be a tough sell to fans, many of whom believe sport is too commercialized as it is.

As Nauright and White (2002) noted nostalgia is a key way that sports media markets to fans because nostalgia removes the pain of the past and focuses on positive memories. Nostalgia implicates a sense on innocence and by adding sponsorships to jerseys the argument could be made that some of that innocence is lost. Personally simply the image of jerseys from the past gives me a sense of nostalgia and I do not know if sponsorships on the jerseys would taint that feeling. The other pressing matter to consider is that in a North American context any additions to jerseys were either to signify leaders on teams or honour those from the past that may no longer be with us. If the NHL implements sponsorships onto jerseys will the ‘C’ be altered in anyway on Sidney Crosby’s jersey? If they place it on the right side of their chest what happens when a figure such as Jean Beliveau passes away? In what way will they honour that person? These questions will need to be answered by professional leagues and will then need to be justified to players, fans, and alumni.

Drawing from Ziegler (2011) as well I have to wonder what this extra money would be used for. If the 76ers are getting $5 million to have the Stubhub logo on their jersey will they then not require as much public funding for new arenas? This extra revenue could supplement a reduction in ticket prices, concessions, or improve the community engagement initiatives from these teams. Using one of these as a primary reason to obtain these sponsorships could ease the transition for some fans, but there will still be some that see this as purely as a cash grab by for profit organizations. Ziegler’s main argument against sport is that professional sport has not been used to serve as a public good as it was intended. I have to believe that adding sponsorships onto jerseys for the sole purpose of increasing revenue will further validate his opinion.

One aspect of this debate that was not brought up in the article was the corporate sponsorship that happens at the grassroots level of sport. There is no backlash from fans when their local team’s jerseys are sponsored by McDonalds or Tim Horton’s so why is it such a travesty at the professional level? The argument can be made that these teams are in need of money and that justifies the massive amounts of sponsorships both on the jersey and part of the team name. As a native of PEI I have grown accustomed to sponsorship throughout local sport, for instance the two Major Midget hockey teams on PEI are: the Charlottetown Bulk Carrier’s Pride and the Kensington Monaghan Farm’s Wild. This article does mention the Philippines Basketball Association having a numerous sponsorships as revenue is hard to come by in non-major leagues. This is similar to an observation I have made about the National Basketball League of Canada. The teams in this league have sponsorships on the jerseys, but when revenue is at this low of a level then increasing their jersey sponsorship similarly to NASCAR or European basketball or hockey could help the league maintain consistent revenue sources.

In conclusion I believe that sponsorships on jerseys are inevitable, but professional franchises should be transparent and explain to their stakeholders why this is important and what the money will be used for. With this strategy I believe fans will be more accepting of change and will endorse the brand similarly to NASCAR supporters.

References:

Nauright, J., & White, P. (2002). Mediated Nostalgia, Community and Nation: The CFL in Crisis and the Demise of the Ottawa Roughriders. Sport History Review, 33, 121-137.

Pevos, E. (2017, July 12). Giant pizza man on Little Caesars Arena roof not going over well withfans. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2017/07/giant_guy_on_little_caesars_ar.html

Pinsker, J. (2016, June 13). Is There Room for Sports to Get Even More Commercialized? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/future-corporate-sports-sponsorhip/486569/

Zeigler, E. (2011). Sport As a Key Partner in the “Big Four’s Reign” in the Western World? International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation & Tourism.


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Mediated Nostalgia, Community and Nation: The CFL in Crisis and the Demise of the Ottawa Roughriders

This article by Nauright and White (2002) examines the position of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in Canada in the 1990’s, the popular media discourses surrounding the CFL and a nostalgic view of an idealized Canada, and the crisis of Canadian Identity as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) saw North America more integrated than ever. The 90’s were a troubling time for Canadian Identity as a number of issues arose throughout the decade. The long-term relationship between Canada and Quebec was unknown and many believed that secession was inevitable. The case could then be made that the rest of Canada would then be broken up, as the Maritime Provinces would then be separated from the rest of Canada. This alone put Canadian Identity into question-if Canada was not a nation from east to west than what was Canada?

Another blow was dealt to Canadian Identity as the continued southern expansion of the National Hockey League (NHL) saw 11 franchises join the NHL: San Jose, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, Colorado, Carolina, Nashville, and Atlanta. Only one of which was in a Canadian market and in the case of Phoenix and Colorado two Canadian franchises were sent south (Winnipeg and Quebec respectively). Hockey has been at the core of Canadian Identity for the greater part of the century and seemingly losing Hockey to the United States was very troublesome for Canada.

The CFL followed the lead of the NHL and began expanding south as Baltimore, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Shreveport, Memphis, Birmingham joined the CFL. The CFL commissioner had even gone as far as saying that “the league’s future was not in Canada, but through expansion in the United States”. Several of the Canadian CFL franchises were in financial trouble so it could have been argued that this was a wise move. However the American CFL franchises were even more troubled than the Canadian franchises, many of the teams only playing one season. One team that did have success were the Baltimore Stallions as they reached the Grey Cup in 1994 losing to the BC Lions, then made it back in 1995 defeating the Calgary Stampeders to become the first non-Canadian team to win the Grey Cup. The success of the Stallions caused a lot of insecurity among CFL fans in Canada. The CFL had always been a place where American influence was minimized, but now that the Grey Cup was in American territory that may come to an end. The Stallions were shortly after disbanded because of NFL relocation that sent the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and renamed them the Ravens.

This then brings up the notion of nostalgia and how it is used within the sports media context. There is such a rich history of sport in Canada which can make it very easy to capitalize on consumer’s feelings and emotions. During the financially troubled 90’s most of the CFL teams leaned on nostalgia to keep the doors open. While the Roughriders were in crisis the media discussed the relation to the “glory days” of the franchise in the late 60’s and 70’s. What was always ignored was the earlier years of the team when they nearly had to shut-down operations. Nostalgia is still used today when sports franchises are in trouble or have not had much success. Particularly the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs have such a deep history that reliving the past becomes almost a weekly occurrence (especially when they are struggling on the ice). Nostalgia is so powerful because it takes away the pain of the present and allows us to remember the good aspects of the past without worrying about the troubles of the time.

Fast-forward 20 years and the CFL may be stronger than ever with a recent re-branding taking place. The NHL has continued to expand south, but Canada was able to regain the Winnipeg Jets and could have another franchise in Quebec or the Greater Toronto Area in the foreseeable future. To close I would like to leave you with the most difficult and thought provoking question that was raised in this paper: “what makes Canada Canadian?”

References:

Nauright, J., & White, P. (2002). Mediated Nostalgia, Community and Nation: The CFL in Crisis and the Demise of the Ottawa Roughriders. Sport History Review, 33, 121-137.

Additional articles:

http://www.cfhof.ca/grey-cup-winners/

https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-expansion-history/c-281005106