Friday, October 19, 2007

The Commercialization of Sports in America

We were discussing Pro sports the other day and I thought "Wow, sports take up a tremendous amount of time in this country." But I wasn't thinking of playing sports with friends and family or clubs, I was thinking about the amount of time and energy Americans spend on watching and discussing professional sports without questioning what we are doing. This includes fantasy leagues, ESPN sportscenter, pregame shows, post game shows, sports radio etc... Too many fans disregard or don't notice that these are ultimately profit making ventures (http://www.lclark.edu/~ria/commercialization.html). Additionally, aren't there many things that could bring people together? A birthday, and anniversary, to catch up with an old friend, for a holiday such as memorial day, labor day, Halloween, etc... Why do we have to get together around the rules of the marketplace? So I don't see anything wrong with enjoying a sporting event per se, but it is when the sporting event replaces interaction and masks the marketplace logic behind it that I begin to question it's role. The danger is when the individual doesn't see this dynamic and becomes a true "fan" (which is short for fanatic), which by definition is an illogical devotion and emotional attachment to a corporate venture without seeing the business. So I guess I am speaking about a fine line and it all depends on one's perception of where the line is. As a personal example, I have been to two parties recently: a family birthday party and an engagement party. One was at a home and one was at a bar/lounge (Tryst http://www.trystchicago.com/). Both were events to celebrate and bring people together - both family and friends. And yes both had sporting events on the entire time (not even Chicago teams playing). And so each event although held for different reasons contained large groups of individuals not discussing politics or race or health care or jobs, but instead crowded around a television watching a game very passively. That is where I am drawing the line and I see this happening all too often in America. I think professional sports has become hegemonic in our society. Especially in regards to the strange relationship sports has carved with alcohol. See the Marin Institute's website (http://www.marininstitute.org/alcohol_industry/unhealthy_mix.htm) or the Center for Alcohol Marketing on Youth report - see second attachment below, but I'll put a highlight here:

Case Studies: Alcohol Advertising on Selected “Big Games”
Significant amounts of advertising dollars were spent on big sports games for 2001, 2002, and
2003, and spending behind the selected big games in 2002 was 16% higher than 2001, and 6%
less in 2003 than in 2002.
􀂃 NFL Monday Night Football accounted for the greatest amount of alcohol advertising
dollars of any “Big Games” programming category ($40.4 million in 2001, $42.7
million in 2002, $38.4 million in 2003).
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􀂃 NCAA basketball tournament games also accounted for a large portion of alcohol
advertising each year ($23.6 million in 2001, $27.6 million in 2002, $21.1 million in
2003).
􀂃 The Super Bowl, an annual event, took in $16.3 million in 2001, $24.5 million in 2002
and $29.6 million in 2003 in alcohol advertising. This represents 3.3% of 2001, 4.1%
of 2002, and 5.5% of 2003 alcohol sports spending.
􀂃 More than $5 million was spent on college bowl games, and from $7 million to $9
million was spent on the World Series each year.
􀂃 X-games and women’s sports accounted for the least amount of spending when
compared with the other “big games,” most

Now how do we tell students that alcohol is not funny and not healthy and not for them when they are inundated with this advertising as part of the hegemonic sports culture in America? I think that seeing the big picture (or a sociological imagination) helps us see these connections that are not always apparent.