We Interrupt This Broadcast…

Kickoff. Commercial. First series of downs. Commercial. Punt. Commercial. Timeout. Commercial. Touchdown. Commercial. Kickoff. Commercial.

While recognizing that broadcasting sports on television is a business and meant primarily for advertising revenue, it is not out of the question to notice the increasingly frequent attempts by networks to sell things to us, the viewers.

Unfortunately, we do not have much say in the matter. Ad time is increasing and the game is taking a backseat to business.

Football is perhaps the biggest causality because the enormous costs networks pay in broadcast rights have to be offset somehow. This is the reason that besides stops in play caused by scores, timeouts, instant replay, or injuries we now also have official television timeouts that serve only to provide more time slots for promotional material and advertising.

Apparently, my desire to watch a football game from start to finish also means that I should want a new SUV, a six-pack of beer, and some insurance. For those of us without TiVo, you can be expected to watch between 90 and 100 commercials during an average professional or college broadcast.

Basketball is guilty to a less, or at least less noticeable, extent. There are enough breaks during the action to squeeze in commercials, and play is inevitably stopped with great regularity near the end of games with full and 20-second timeouts.

Baseball is the closest thing we have to a sport where the commercials revolve around the game and not the other way around. Pitching changes and breaks during innings are the only times during which networks get a chance to squeeze in some advertising material. Although, many have complained that commercials during radio broadcasts for the Indians often times cut into game action.

Do not be discouraged, though, as there have been times in recent memory when the broadcast of certain sports events have been viewer-friendly and not crammed with plugs, break-ins, and ads ad nauseum.

The 1994 World Cup set the benchmark for broadcasting soccer in the United States, a sport that has no stoppage of time or play for two 45-minute periods. ABC and ESPN used banner ads around the scoreboard that appeared on the screen, allowing uninterrupted viewing of the entire game and space for sponsors to plaster their names. To this day, any soccer broadcast (professional, international, or collegiate) uses this format. And to this day, because it's hard to make advertising revenue off this format, soccer is rarely broadcast on national television.

The Masters was commercial-free for a couple of years, although this had more to do with the potential effect on tournament advertisers by Martha Burk's protests of the club's sexist member policies than any sort of fan interest. Please do not be fooled, though, 2004 saw advertising come back to the broadcast of the Masters at a four minutes per hour rate.

As if it were not enough that networks stop play artificially to slam us with ads and fill every moment, not with constructive commentary, but with plugs for their latest sitcoms, viewers must now deal with the issue of sponsorship.

Let's just start with the naming rights to stadiums. Going to see a baseball game in Colorado? You'll be visiting Coors Field, and make sure to grab a frosty Coors Light on the way to your seat. Going to a basketball game in Miami? Head down to American Airlines Arena and think about that when you book your next flight. How 'bout a hockey game in Florida? Just go over to the Office Depot Center (wait, don't I need a new fax machine?) In Houston and want to catch a baseball game? Just go to Minute Maid Park and remember the last time you had a refreshing, sweet glass of orange juice.

So, you think corporate naming rights at stadiums and arenas is pretty annoying? It's only getting worse, as advertising has now invaded the actual game play with companies and organizations sponsoring certain moments or events during a telecast. This just equates to more time for the network to sell to companies that think it's more important that I learn about their new sandwich rather than hearing detailed analysis of the game. Professional broadcasters have now been forced to utter some of the most ridiculous statements ever put on-air.

For example:

The Browns move down to the Bengals' 15-yard line, which means they are in the Heinz Red Zone, Heinz products can be found at your local Giant Eagle supermarket, and while you're there, pick up some Truelawn fertilizer if you want your grass to look as good as the field at Brown's Stadium. Suggs runs up the middle for 2 yards. That brings us to the Dr. Scholl's two-minute warning, and that means we're only two minutes away from the Hooters Halftime Show, sponsored by The Piercing Palace. Back to the action. That's an incomplete pass by [Kelly] Holcomb.

When we come back from halftime, the Bengals will have the Foot Locker Second Half kickoff toward the Puppy Chow Dawg Pound. Stay tuned, we'll be right back after this commercial break.

Comments and Conversation

January 5, 2005


Glaring factual error-the Masters DID NOT have any commercials in 2004. Not sure who or what your source is on that one.

Beyond that, this was a well-written piece, but nonetheless another bite-the-hand-the-feeds-you article against a very easy target to hit. Every week, it seems, we get more bad news about horrible ratings for any given sports event, and thus more commercialization is inevitable. I’d rather have the entire football field covered with ads than not be able to watch the game. I can tune this stuff out and take it in stride, why can’t others?

January 5, 2005

Brian McAllester:

I like what you have to say. I was watching the big game last night and couldn’t believe how many FedEx touchdowns were thrown during the game. It’s obscene! Anyhow, appreciate the article. Keep it up, I’m looking forward to hearing more from you.

January 5, 2005

Vince Grzegorek:

Thanks for the comments Kevin. The source on the Masters fact was, http://www.golfweek.com/articles/2004/pro/majors/men/masters/40217.asp . If that is not correct, I apologize for the mistake.

January 26, 2005

Grzegorek is Illiterate:

Not racist. Sexist. Get it straight.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site