Tuesday, August 07, 2007

NFL expects journalists to serve as billboards

You don't need me to tell you that we are exposed to lots of commercial messages each day.

Of course, there are the traditional advertisements: Radio ads. Newspaper ads. Matchbook covers. Billboards.
Then, there are more subtle commercial messages. "Product placement" in TV shows and movies. Logos on apparel. Notes at the bottom of e-mails. Strategically placed electronic signs behind home plate (which, in many cases, show up only on TV) at Major League Baseball stadiums.

All told, how many of those messages are we subjected to? Daily estimates vary greatly, from 247 (Consumer Reports) to 3,000 (many sources) and even more. Whatever the number, know that it is going up.
Places heretofore off-limits for advertising are now fair game. More billboards dot the landscape. More newspapers are placing advertisements on their front pages, and others, including the TH, are considering them. The starting lineups of a ballgame are "sponsored." Even at the shrine of baseball, Chicago's Wrigley Field, advertising logos now appear on the service doors in the otherwise pristine ivy-covered walls.

Now, if the National Football League has its way, there will be unwilling conveyors of advertising messages.
Previously, the league has pressured sideline photographers, who regularly wind up appearing in the TV picture on sideline and end-zone plays, to cover equipment logos -- if the logo is not for an NFL marketing partner.

Now the NFL intends to enact a rule requiring sideline photographers -- they are employees of newspapers, local TV stations and wire services -- to wear league-provided vests. These red vests, not coincidentally, will display the advertising logos for Canon and Reebok -- corporations that have paid for the privilege of being the "official" something-or-other of the NFL.

So, as you watch a football game on TV, and the wide receiver crashes into a pack of photographers, the photogs you see scattering will be unwilling advertising vehicles for the NFL and its sponsors.
These journalists use equipment displaying logos, and occasionally wear clothing with logos or the name of their news organization. However, unlike the pending NFL edict, they are not required to do so.

Two leading newspaper associations, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and Associated Press Managing Editors, have filed objections with Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL.
"It is anathema to us that our employees should be put in the position of becoming walking billboards or be viewed as troublemakers for refusing to wear advertising materials just to do their jobs," stated Gilbert Bailon, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "It is our hope that the NFL will simply credential our representatives and let them go about their work."

Wrote Karen Magnuson, president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, "We realize that some kind of clearly visible method must be in place to easily identify members of the media who are credentialed to cover the games. But we don't understand the need to require our employees to help advertise products for the league's sponsors."

I agree with that, but I also don't expect the NFL to budge. If journalists don't want to wear the logo vests, I anticipate Goodell saying, "You don't have to request credentials to cover NFL games."

How times have changed.

In the early 1920s, when the National Football League was in its infancy and many people looked down on professionalism, sportswriters from the daily papers didn't cover league games.
Imagine this: After the Chicago Bears played home games (at Wrigley Field, in those days) player-coach-owner George Halas personally delivered game reports to the newsrooms of the Chicago papers. It was the only way he could get a mention in the next morning's edition.

In those struggling days, given the chance, Halas probably would have adorned his players' uniforms with Chicago Tribune logos if the Tribune would only agree to send a scribe to the game.

How will this turn out? Just tune into an NFL game soon. And see whether the photographers are wearing logo-adorned red vests.

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