What novelist Tom Wolfe once derisively called “hog-stomping capitalism” has finally taken over America’s pastime.
The New York Yankees’ famous pinstripes and gray roadies will be sporting a sleeve patch for Starr Insurance, a company founded by the old pirate Maurice Greenburg. For that showcase, Starr will pay the Yankees a reported $25 million fee.
When I first saw a bright yellow sleeve patch advertising Quikrete concrete mix on the Atlanta Braves uniforms, I thought, “UGH,” but then I put it down to corporate ownership. The Braves’ majority owner is Liberty Media, which never saw an ad it didn’t like.
But now—OMG—the Yankees! Babe Ruth could have made a fortune wearing sleeve patches for beer, cigars and whiskey, but when the Bambino reigned, ball players and team owners didn’t think that way. Now they cannot wait to peddle their brand to deep-pocketed sponsors.
As for the branding benefit to Starr, does the association with the Yankees make people more likely or less likely to approve of Starr, support Starr, or purchase its insurance? And how about the Yankees, who aren’t doing so hot this season? This move shows definitively how some companies believe branding means slapping your name and logo all over everything the consumer is expected to encounter or see.
Of course, Ball Park Franks won’t be far behind, and even the much reviled, totally trashed Bud Light brand might be making a sleeve patch appearance in a late bid to regain its masculine credentials. After all, Anheuser-Busch has a ready-made partner in the St. Louis Cardinals.
One ball player said that baseball players will soon look like NASCAR drivers—plastered from head to toe in sponsorship tags.
I can see the patch mania infecting other sports. Aspercreme or Advil patches for gymnastic togs, Icy Hot for wrestling, Banana Boat or Ray-Ban patches for swim trunks, Jack Daniels or Jim Beam for football jerseys. When we see a Heineken patch on a white sleeve at Wimbledon, we will know that the apotheosis of sports commercialization has been attained.
We don’t know how far this will go, but America is well down the road to selling out everything that can be monetized in some way. However, we can rest assured that there is one totally monetized group that will never wear sponsorship patches—the United States Congress.
Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Advertising's Double Helix: A Proposed New Process Model. Journal of Advertising Research, May/June 1999. His article about advertising effects has been cited in books and academic papers around the world.