Everything is sponsored these days. From your Coors Light Cold Hard Facts television segments, to the ads on your Pandora Internet Radio. With mounds of free content on the interwebs, sponsorship in the digital space is one of the most reliable streams of income. Sometimes, though, selling out has its costs. I bring you my hand-picked, top 10 most unbecoming sponsorship pairings of all-time:
10) BP’s Backup Gulf of Mexico
It’s topical, it’s ridiculous, and so, so easy. Which is why it comes in at number ten. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, LA has a 400,000-gallon exhibit titled “Gulf of Mexico”. Only one hang up on this sightseeing Gulf Coast adventure: the aquarium is sponsored by BP, among other oil companies. So it appears BP has a backup Gulf Coast waiting in the wings if necessary. Just for humanity’s sake, let’s hope BP takes their name off of this aquarium.
In other news, the BP Sea Otter Habitat is set to open this summer at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on the heels of a $1 million donation. And just so I can clear this up … when an individual or organization makes a donation and then plasters their name on the side of something, yes, it is a sponsorship. To reference a great Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, if you don’t need the fanfare, leave the donation anonymous; or pull a Ted Danson: make the donation, declare it anonymous, and then gradually tell gossiping women about your good deed.
9) Jack Daniels Sponsors a NASCAR Vehicle
When it comes to brand symmetry, Jack Daniels and NASCAR are simultaneously a perfect and lousy fit. Jack Daniels sponsored the number seven car for Richard Childress Racing until the recent economic downturn. Most of NASCAR’s core audience of southerners, smokers, and drinkers probably appreciate a good Tennessee Whiskey. Before you get too riled up by my sweeping generalization of NASCAR consumers, which is a national sport, recall that drivers raced for the Winston Cup for 32 years. Anytime your prize is named after cigarettes, I think you know what you have. For my money, though, this is a lousy fit. A motor vehicle entertaining thousands of drinkers, who are currently drinking at the event, with 80-proof whiskey on the side of the car? Unbecoming.
8 ) Soccer Team Fiasco … Complete With Wings
Boy, it’s one thing to have a sport where corporate sponsorships make it front and center on the actual jerseys. Fútbol, the global game, has done this for years. But when the New York/New Jersey (classy) MetroStars were bought out, the new owner slapped their name right on the team: The New York Red Bulls. Way to take it up a notch from title sponsor to sponsor consuming title: a Major League Soccer franchise named after an energy drink. And yes, the iconic Red Bull logo is the team’s logo, plus a soccer ball and crest. The team name is the Red Bulls, yet the plural didn’t make it into the logo. That, my friends, would screw with the energy drink branding. I guess one brand suffers for the advance of the other. Smartly, the Austrian energy drink company dropped New Jersey from the brand. There’s a reason the Nets are moving to Brooklyn.
7) Tiger Woods’ Past and Present Sponsorship Motto’s
Some of Tiger’s sponsors dropped him after his extracurricular activities were exposed, but I played a fun little game: look at company motto’s of Tiger sponsors, former and current. Funny enough, they didn’t know just how accurately Tiger represented their product and services. Given that Tiger’s sponsorships center around elite performance, his infidelity is a strangely natural fit:
Accenture: “High performance. Delivered.”
Side note: Accenture has quickly retreated to using elephants and schools of fish in their ad campaigns.
NetJets: “Be there.”
Gillette: “The best a man can get.”
EA Sports: “E. A. Sports. It’s in the game.”
AT&T: “Your world. Delivered.”
Buick: “Drive Beautiful.”
Nike: “Just do it.”
And last but not least …
Gatorade: “Is it in you?”
Gatorade’s Tiger Thirst Quencher line did have two particularly unbecoming flavors: the Quiet Storm and the Red Drive. Let’s just all thank our lucky stars Woods wasn’t around to push the G-Series product line.
6) Philip Morris Promotes Humanity
Tobacco companies have long worked hard to promote positive brand awareness. After all, their products kill people. Philip Morris hit a particular chord with their Philip Morris Humanities Forum at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. Nothing says ancient and modern languages, literature, law, history, philosophy, religion, visual and performing arts, technology, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, cultural studies, and linguistics like a kiss of death from Papa Morris. Makes you want to celebrate being alive, doesn’t it?
5) The Government and Gambling
This is a defacto sponsorship, given state government’s willingness to run and market their own state lottos. Yes, we’ll see billboards with a running count of the Mega Millions total purse and television ads showing money rain down on a lucky winner. The underlying message: you could be the next millionaire, just buy a state lottery ticket. Meanwhile, only 18 states plus Puerto Rico allow commercial casinos run by private companies on non-Indian land. Owning an online gaming operation without proper licensing is illegal. Currently, no states grant online gaming licenses and each state has very specific laws regarding which forms of gambling, under what circumstances, are legal. The Federal Wire Act prohibits taking sports bets online.
So essentially, they have no qualms taking our money for the state lottery, but prevent us from gambling as we choose in any number of venues outside of their game. And why? To save us from ourselves. The laws are on the books because gambling can be addictive and destuctive. A small percentage of the population are at particular risk: people with a degenerative mental disorder, those that are not risk averse, or those that ignore, don’t know, or don’t understand the odds. Interestingly enough, the house odds of the state lottery are much worse for gamblers than many of the most popular casino games. House odds reflect the profit the house earns for every $1 a person wagers. Blackjack, for example, has house odds of 1% or less for skilled players, or $0.01 profit to the house for every dollar wagered. The California State Lottery however, comes in around 50%, or $0.50 profit to the state for every dollar wagered by its citizens.
I can see why they protect us. The dumbfounding thing about this is that legal gambling is a $12 billion/year industry. If gambling were legalized across the board, illegal underground gambling brought to the surface, and all house profits taxed, we’d have part of the solution to bridging the budget gaps across this country. Instead, money continues to trade underground along with the prohibited activity, or goes overseas to online gaming companies.
4) Big Ben Beef Jerky Hits a Little Too Close to Home
Once the Pittsburgh Steelers’ two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fielded allegations of sexual assault, just two years after being accused of rape, the plug had to be pulled on Big Ben Beef Jerky. Said Ty Ballou, owner of the jerky producer, PLB Sports:
“We’ve made a lot of money together. I’m leaving a lot on the table by terminating this contract. Even though there were no criminal charges, there are just enough issues here that it’s the best interests of PLB Sports to break ties.”
The words Big, Ben, beef and jerky do combine for a powerful knockout punch of associations. In one flail swoop, it was all too much to overcome.
3) Clark, Texas becomes DISH, Texas for Free Satellite
More public institutions every year are exploring sponsorships of public property and civic buildings to combat ballooning debt problems. This could mean selling naming rights to academic programs in universities, public roadways, public parks, or even a principal’s office. The commercialization is often unbecoming, but certainly practical to keep services and facilities running in a debt crisis. Clark, Texas, population 218, and their 55 property owners, took it up a notch in 2006. The city council voted to rename the town DISH for a decade in exchange for free satellite television from DISH Network. A decade is quite a committment, but on the other hand, there is a lot of programming to get through. It’s probably safe to say there isn’t a lot to do in Clark. I mean, DISH.
2) Freedom Hall’s Replacement
The University of Louisville is making a splash with their new $238 million basketball arena. A program with rich tradition, UL has played in fabled Freedom Hall since 1956. Now, the Cardinals will don the red and black in the KFC Yum! Center. Yep, the old freedom for fried chicken swap. Brilliant. This title sponsor contract will be in place through 2020, guaranteeing many opportunities to laugh at the venue which may just be nicknamed “The Bucket”. Have fun with that, Cards fans.
1) Abercrombie & Fitch Grabs Naming Rights to Children’s Emergency Room
The clothing retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch, took a run at title sponsorship of the Children’s Emergency Room at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Nationwide got it’s name after receiving a $50 million donation in 2007 from Nationwide Insurance, so the hospital was no stranger to corporate title sponsors. They tested the waters for The Abercrombie & Fitch Emergency Department and Trauma Center by hinting at the possibility in press releases following a $10 million donation from A & F. Abercrombie, a company headquartered in nearby New Albany, Ohio, likely saw it as an opportunity to give back to its community while getting a head start on sexualizing pre-teens. Two birds, one $10 million stone. This is the same company that in 2002 introduced racy thong underwear in children’s sizes, marketed toward girls from ages 10 to 14. Walking into their stores you are greeted with 20 x 20 foot black and white images of half naked teens, low lights, loud, pulsing music, and a thick cloud of cologne and perfume. We can only hope that Abercrombie provides the same ambiance as you walk through the sliding glass doors of the ER. Serenity and healing.
Of course, backlash from groups like these and the blogosphere poured in. You would think Nationwide wouldn’t have the stomach for this, and would find another way to appease A & F for the $10 million. Perhaps negotiations broke down while A & F played hard to get. Nonetheless, the The Abercrombie & Fitch Emergency Department and Trauma Center is scheduled to open in 2011.