Sports-Branded Entertainment Races, Looks To Avoid Crashing

During the final moments of the Daytona 500, with Mark Martin in the lead -- and no teammates around to help -- one Fox commentator decided to riff off the name of Martin's car sponsor: "Right now, Mark Martin is an Army of One."

Was there an audible groan from the audience? Did the Army get its money's worth -- or was it an over-the-top association? Product placement at its best -- and worst?

NASCAR has been the king of sports-branded entertainment for years. Besides the product placement on the hoods of all cars and the names of sponsors on drivers' uniforms, over a dozen drivers were found hawking products as spokespeople during traditional commercials that ran on Fox's race broadcast.

Other sports have long had traditions in this area. International soccer and cycling are two sports that treat sponsors like kings, displaying their names significantly on jerseys.



Soccer players will grab their shirts by their hands to be puffed up after scoring goals; cyclists leading races will zip up their jerseys upon approaching the finish line.

The question for the future is, how much commercialization do we let in. The Major League Soccer team MetroStars changed its name to Red Bull New York. Experts say it's only a matter of time before some higher-profile sports teams do the same -- or at least modify their monikers. The IBM New York Yankees? The Microsoft Seattle Supersonics? The Google San Francisco 49ers?

Overall we give athletes some leeway, considering their big-time physical performances. Surely, NASCAR race driver Martin, near the end of his career, had little to do with what a commentator said in the heat of the big race.

If we groan at some over-the-top product placement, we don't blame the athletes. Sports competitors don't own the teams that make these decisions -- they're just good employees and, of course, team players. Hey, big-time athlete, you're a big star, what are you going to do now?

"I'm going to Disneyland."

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