Oh, gee, the NBA wants to build on its incredible globe-spanning success and goodwill by putting ads on its uniforms, because...that's how they do it in the WNBA. And MLS. And various other unpopular and/or foreign sports leagues, and uh NASCAR, which, really? NASCAR was a long-form automobile commercial to begin with.
Has anyone around here ever heard the phrase "race to the bottom"?
The reason the Big Four pro sports in America don't plaster ads on their uniforms—except when they do, which we'll return to in a bit—is that they are the Big Four. People like them. (Three of them, anyway.) They haven't needed to go slobbering after every single dollar to stay afloat. They have, or had, a little self-respect, which even translated into a modicum of respect for their audience.
But America is well into a particularly depraved phase of capitalism, in which life is an unending barrage not only of nickel-and-dime sales pitches—Want a sandwich with your plane ticket? Luggage? An inch more leg room?—but of ancillary advertising and marketing pitches tacked on to the original transaction. There is no blank space or quiet time that an advertiser isn't angling to break into. Not only do you pay the ATM fee, but you get an ad on the back of the receipt.
This is how Dan Snyder got rich—by finding ways to turn normal human behavior into financial and marketing transactions. His creativity at finding new ways to sell things on top of what people were already being sold is at the core of his being, which is why he is such a toxic, bullying, selfish person. (He does not, however, pay people to produce videos of scantily clad middle-school girls stomping kittens to death. Not to our knowledge. It would be libelous for us to say Dan Snyder produces, let alone enjoys watching, underaged softcore kitten-snuff videos. We would never say Dan Snyder gets off on watching tween girls killing kittens.)
Amazing as it may seem to anyone born after 1980, things weren't always this way. Lady Bird Johnson thought billboards were ugly, and so the interstate highway system ended up lined with trees and wildflowers instead of acres of slogans. Major League Baseball was played in ballparks with plain outfield walls—the game had proudly outgrown the cheap-looking clutter of ads on the fences, which were strictly for minor leaguers.
But then the ads rode back in, on the back of the fake-retro ballpark movement. And they kept on spreading, right onto the home-plate backdrop. Now where they can't put real ads, they put virtual ones. If anybody tried to block highway ads today, there'd be a multimillion-dollar crusade in the name of the First Amendment. The greedheads have claimed a heckler's veto over life itself.
Hey, sports is a business, people say, acting like they're all wised up. Sure. Everything's a business. The phone company is a business. It could make more money than it does if it sold your calling history to data-mining companies and marketing outfits.
The purpose of a business is not "to make money." The purpose of a business is to make money by doing something. The NBA makes money by putting on basketball games. Yes, it gets much more money through ad sales and merchandise and other marketing than it does from spectators buying tickets to sit and watch basketball be played. Nevertheless, if you take away the part where people are watching people play basketball, there's no business.
And when you slap an advertisement on the jerseys, you are getting directly in the line of sight. An NBA game with 10 four-square-inch advertising patches moving around the court at once is uglier and more distracting than a game without them. Maybe it's only a little annoying, but that's an annoyance experienced by every single person watching every single game. It's noise.
To what end? So Andray Blatche can get paid $6,445,083 instead of $6,442,083? So James Dolan can buy another really boss Stratocaster? Who gets hurt if the NBA leaves this particular pile of money on the table?
And forget the ethics and morality of capitulating to the push for omnipresent advertising, for a second. Don't worry about Dan Snyder being the embodiment of public morality. Is this even good for marketing? American professional sports teams are brands—immensely popular brands, recognized around the world. Why should some crappy outside brand be allowed to piggyback on and dilute the impact of the main brand?
MLB already lets this happen. Its apparel contractor, Majestic, gets to slap its logo prominently on the sleeves of the jerseys, as if anyone is tuning into a baseball game to see Majestic. The Yankees—who are nothing if not brand-conscious—break ranks and leave off the logo, though if you buy the $193.99 Authentic Derek Jeter Home Jersey, you'll end up inauthentically advertising Majestic on your own sleeve. (And not even the Yankees are willing or able to suppress those irritating Nike undershirts that have the swoosh peeking out front and center.)
The Boston Celtics are an icon. The Boston Taco Bell/KFC Celtics would be a bunch of guys in green and pink and purple and red pajamas. It's not worth it.