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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Becker: Advertising Responsibilities of Sport Leagues

Sports aren’t just about sitting down to watch a game — it’s a business that’s about money. Advertisers that are a part of game commercial breaks spend money to earn money. The big four sport leagues in the United States (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) have a truly astounding influence in American society. The NFL had a record $3.5 billion in ad revenue last year. Even though the NFL’s average viewership dropped by 8 percent from 2015 to 2016, it still managed to reach 16.5 million people per game. Multiply that by the 256 NFL games in a regular season and that’s a big chunk of people watching football — a whole lot of people who advertisers can reach. Now, imagine how many people are watching the playoffs. What about advertisers in the MLB that have 2,430 games altogether to advertise their products to viewers? Then there’s the 1,230 games in the NBA with an average viewership of about 1.2 million people. Don’t even get me started on March Madness or college football.

I have no idea how many of these games I actually watch each year, but I can’t imagine a time where the ads being played during those games that I do watch don’t have an effect on my psyche. If you asked me to name an American beer off the top of my head, I would say Bud Light. The most popular chip in America? Doritos, easy. These aren’t the products that I use when consuming television, beer or snacks necessarily, but they will forever be in my head due to sheer exposure. They leave an impact, there’s no doubt about that. So do these professional sport leagues have a responsibility to their fans to make sure that their advertisements played during their games are sending positive or at least neutral messages?

If the NFL were to be more selective in its advertisers, there’s the chance that a decrease in competition could affect its revenue. A loss in revenue could create a loss in quality and all of the dominoes could fall after that. That potentially means employing players who don’t spark children’s creativity and can’t inspire generations of kids to want to follow in their footsteps. So returning to the question of ethical accountability to the fans, I’m not sure that these leagues would even have the influence they do if they didn’t have the highest paying advertisers in the world. That has to be kept in mind as the NFL and MLB reconsider who they allow to advertise in their leagues.

In the beginning of June, the NFL announced that it would allow “distilled spirits” to be advertised during its games. Four 30-second ad spots a game will be filled with marketers for Smirnoff, Crown Royal and Johnnie Walker. The league could be helping these industries indoctrinate kids into a lifestyle of vices. At the same time, their ad revenue had a severe drop in growth from 2015 to 2016. They can’t afford to be behind the times, but is it right for them to take advantage of the emotional ties that a young fan has with his or her team? Are these leagues greedy, or are they trying to keep up in an age of on-demand entertainment? They could be influencing children for decades with these decisions in supremely negative ways or they could be renewing a lease on providing a dream for these young people.

My hope is that these leagues always weigh their options properly before acting not just as businesses, but as American institutions. The implications could be deep and far-reaching, but they may be necessary and fundamentally American — we do live in a free market after all. Only time will unfold it all, and I can tell you one thing, I’ll be watching to find out how it unravels.

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