Commentary

This Network Sports Trend Isn't Very 'Kool'

With so many references to "drinking the Kool-Aid" in modern culture, you would think at least some TV networks should be airing a few more Kool-Aid commercials.

Of course, that's not quite the aim the sellers of "Kool-Aid" had in mind.

The latest reference to that sugary drink comes from CBS Sports chief Sean McManus who was bemoaning the fact TV executives are now in a cult-like advertising state. That too many commercials, promotions, product placement, and electronically inserted brand names, are squeezed into sporting events - especially on his own network and especially with college football.

In effect, ad executives have been drinking the Kool-Aid by cluttering up sports contests with any advertising revenues that came their way. And it may prove to be suicidal.

The problem is if TV networks continue to spend more on sports rights fees, there'll have no choice but to sell even more of sports content to sponsors. Major League Baseball has already been experimenting in exhibition games by putting sponsors names on uniforms - which in Europe is already part of the marketing fabric for sports such as soccer and cycling.

Now, with the NFL looking for a hefty price hike from its TV partners - who for the most part are already losing money on the league - perhaps even more revenue streams will open up.

NFL football is one of the few sports that - for the most part - have resisted much TV viewer erosion. And that's why it still commands big rights fees from networks. Now, Major League Baseball will look to do that same, with this year's playoff and World Series games earning their highest ratings in years.

Mark Lazarus, president of Turner Entertainment Group, says product placement in sports is okay if it is done "tastefully."

Please. How much "taste" is there in sports anyway? Right now there are too many advertising messages. Call it the Rolaids relief moment of the game; The Pepto-Bismol stomachache play of the day; or the BenGay painful hit of the game. Let's face it. None of this can be tasteful.

A few years back the NFL cut out much of this for because it was, indeed, distasteful. Given the league's still high value and strict guidelines, TV networks had no choice but to go along. Though there is a major sports glut, advertisers still need sports to reach hard-to-come by male viewers. They'll continue to dangle big TV advertising money in their faces of network executives.

How to pay for these events? Surely, in the years to come the pressure will be to move even more sports to pay-TV or pay-per-view type events. But not to worry, viewer demand will be still great - so much so that advertisers will continue to put advertising messages into sports programs.

TV executives will not only continue to drink the Kool-Aid, but they'll drinking new flavors.

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