There is a great article from the, still brilliant after all of these years, Onion entitled “Please Click On Our Website’s Banner Ads“.
The gist of the satire is that news, and journalism, exist for one purpose: the selling of advertising.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think The Onion actually cared about the integrity of its brand? Or that we paid even one single thought to the expectations of our readers? Or that the enduring quality of The Onion’s content mattered even in the slightest? Ha! That’s rich. No, none of that stuff matters at all. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we want tons of people to go to our website and click on our news stories, for sure. But the only reason we want this to happen is so that their eyes might, by chance, wander over, like little lost children, to a nearby ad. You think the New York Times is any different? Don’t kid yourself. What you are taking part in here is not a free exchange of information provided by The Onion as some sort of noble act of public service. Lord, no. What you are taking part in here is, essentially, a scam. A scam in which we trick you in to visiting our website and looking at ads so that some large, omnipotent corporation will give us a big stack of cash. Or a small stack of cash. Or, really, any amount of cash at all, preferably arranged in stacks.
And while it is a stretch, it is for the most part: true.
I work for a website here in Minneapolis called MinnPost.com. We are a non-profit, we are mission driven, and our founding philosophy is that a strong third estate is vital to a strong democracy.
And yet, the website we slave over every day is not our product.
Our product is our readers, for our readership (affluent, educated, older, local) is what we sell to advertisers, foundations, and sponsors.
Every savvy Internet user knows that we are not Facebook’s or Google’s or Instagram’s customers, we are their product – which is why they have no problem taking away or changing services.
And sport is no different.
The world “product” is part of the sporting lexicon. “The NY Yankees put an entertaining product on the field day in and day out.” But in sport, we, the fan, are the product. The product that the sports franchises sell to Pepsi, Miller beer, and Chevrolet.
I am not telling you anything you do not know.
It is something most savvy sports fans understand, and most either try to ignore or are simply okay with.
I fall into the latter category. For the most part I am happy to be a pawn in this game, because I enjoy sport, and sport does not exist without the advertising/franchise relationship, and because in a lot of ways it forces teams to at least try to compete on the field and to build and sculpt and refine an interesting and sustainable and global brand off the field.
But there has to be limits.
I am reading Gideon Haigh’s book about the 2005 Ashes and in it he mentions how Shane Warne was a chain smoker. His brand was Benson & Hedges, of course, because they were cricket sponsors, and they gave him his smokes for free.
The most visible Australian athlete at the time, chain smoking, and playing in a tournament with a tobacco company as its lead sponsor.
It would be unheard of today. Tobacco’s relationship with sport is a black eye for all involved, we know that now.
Cricket’s relationship with B&H lasted until 2002, when finally, a ban on tobacco advertising was put into place.
Like all industries, cricket has had to look into new sectors in which to find revenue during the recent worldwide recession. For the most part, no new sponsors have are even slightly raised eyebrows like B&H did, with two exceptions: junk food and gambling.
First, the latter:
Gambling and sport have had a long relationship, from the Black Sox scandal to Pete Rose. But lately, it has come out that the relationship is far deeper than anyone (other than the FBI, it seems) suspected. Read Deep Backward Point‘s post about gambling and soccer and cricket: Soccer is in Trouble (and so are we).
Every time I see a Premier League team with a gambling website on its kit, I shudder. And it is more often than not, these days.
Soccer aside, if the ICC is serious about cleaning up its act, and keeping spot fixing and match fixing out of the game it is charged to protect, then its very first step should be to institute an immediate ban on gambling related sponsorships and advertising.
I know there are financial concerns for clubs and boards that go far beyond my understanding, but the very future of the game is at risk.
I call on the ICC to act and act now.
For whatever that is worth.
I rarely get on my soapbox, but like the proprietor of Deep Backward Point: I fear for the future of the game. Gambling threatens to taint our golden age forever.
Regarding junk food, I am not as passionate, but I am passionate nonetheless.
KFC is the presenting and title sponsor of a widely popular tournament in Australian cricket, and that’s a problem.
Let’s take a sample meal from KFC: Two pieces of original recipe chicken, a biscuit, some fries, and a 20oz Pepsi (cough, IPL, cough). Using the nutrition information from KFC’swebsite, I come up with the following:
141 grams of carbs
51 grams of fat
2,785 mg of sodium
71 grams of sugar
That is shocking.
That is poison. No other way to put it.
And the fact that world’s greatest cricketers are running around the MCG with “KFC” on their chests (not to mention on the sight screens and the field boards and God knows where else) is borderline criminal.
Yes, criminal: there is a serious obesity problem in every first world nation on earth. It is a health care crisis heretofore unseen since polio.
According to the sources I found, the three year deal between Cricket Australia and KFC is worth between US$1million and US$2million. Not a great deal of money at the end of the day. And probably not worth it. And here’s why:
It’s not something people like to admit, but kids the world over look up to athletes, and while that should not direct their behavior, it should at the very least be a guide. And the cricket boards and clubs should follow suit, they should not put the purveyors of poison on the chests of children’s heroes.
Historian’s are going to look back on cricket’s relationships with gambling and junk food with the same sideways glances we now reserve for cricket’s former relationship with tobacco. Let us act now to end those relationships before there is one giant black cloud of junk food and gambling forever associated with this golden age of cricket.