Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Pepsi! Pepsi! Gooooo, Pep… wait, what?
With Super Bowl LII (that’s “fiddy two” for all you non-Roman numeral nerds out there) here at last, and excitement building not just for the game, but for the commercials we’ll see, I find myself asking, “When did sports become so saturated with selling? So crowded with commerce? So abundant with advertising?”
Was it always this way? Did the dude who won the first footrace in the 760 BC Olympic Games thank his mom and his two favorite gods (“Big ups to Opollo and Selene for bringing the sun and the moon.”) before sending a special shoutout to the beverage that helped him get to the pinnacle of Peloponnesian athletics: the cool, refreshing taste of Mount Olympus ® spring water?
While the ancient Greeks may not have been inundated with sports marketing, it is safe to say that athletics have been commercialized for quite some time.
Here in America, my research shows the first crossover between advertising and athletics probably occurred back in the late 1800’s, when several tobacco companies issued sets of baseball cards to market their cancer sticks, er, tobacco products. When I was a kid, I had a prized Topps Rickey Henderson card. Thankfully, since those packs of cards came with gum and not cigars, I have an addiction to dry, crumbly Hubba Bubba instead of nicotine.
In the 1930’s, Wheaties started putting famous athletes on its boxes and marketing itself as “the breakfast of champions.” In college, I was taught that Bud Ice and Jaegermeister was the true breakfast of champions, but maybe those two breakfast types were just competing in different breakfast leagues – you know, like the NBA and the MLB.
In the 1950’s, the St. Louis Cardinals were prophets (profits?) when they sold the naming rights of their stadium to Anheuser-Busch. I still remember when Candlestick Park became 3Com Park, which became San Francisco Stadium at Candlestick Point, which became Monster Park which then went back to Candlestick Park – the first time I had ever personally heard of anything like that happening. Nowadays, if your stadium doesn’t have the name of a corporate sponsor, other stadiums will get together and write mean things about your stadium in a Burn Book. Yes, stadiums are like the characters of the movie Mean Girls. No, I will not debate this.
The late 1970’s brought more than just the Bad News Bears and Chico’s Bail Bonds (who among us hasn’t worn the name of a questionable local business on the back of our Little League jersey?) but also Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, otherwise known as ESPN, which radically changed the relationship between sports and advertising. It’s hard to believe that in its infancy, ESPN barely had enough content to fill a single station. Ah, the halcyon days of Australian Rules Football and the World’s Strongest Man Competition (shoutout to Magnus ver Magnusson). In 2018, there are no less than 13 ESPN-affiliated channels mixing sports and marketing on the daily.
In the 2000’s (okay, just last year), JSA mixed up our own concoction of commerce and quarterbacks with Derek Carr’s debut music video celebrating EECU. He needed a bank he could trust – EECU needed a spokesperson who had pipes like Sinatra and Adele had a child. The results speak for themselves.
So that brings us to Super Bowl LII. What commercials are you looking forward to? What new products will be showcased that we never knew we needed and we never again be able to live without? It’s the game within the game within a game.
Hopefully the Super Bowl will bring great commercials and a Patriots loss. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a Raiders fan and I’m still salty over the Tuck Rule game. Okay, it’s partly because I’m a Raiders fan and yeah, partly because of the Tuck Rule game – but it’s also because I need a bank I can trust – and low rates are a must.
(Are you singing the song in your head? I bet you’re singing the song in your head. Touchdown, JSA).