Stern's Latest WNBA Hail Mary: Be Afraid
We always figured the Boston Celtics would be the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks would be the New York Knicks. The first crack in that assumption was announced Monday.
The Phoenix Mercury will wear LifeLock jerseys this season. To which 97 percent of you respond:
The who will do what?
Phoenix is a WNBA team, which means you probably don't care if the players didn't wear jerseys at all. I won't be so crass as to say that would actually help ratings, but you never know what the league will try in this economy.
For now it is sending jerseys back to the seamstress. "Phoenix" and "Mercury" will be replaced with "LifeLock," an identity theft protection company. Talk about irony.
"This deal serves as a blueprint for other associations of its kind with all our WNBA teams," Stern said.
If all goes well it's easy to imagine Stern getting up in a few years and dropping only one letter from that statement
Today the Phoenix Mercury. Tomorrow the Phoenix Suns?
"The rest of the world considers this business as usual and assumes this is the way professional sports team market," Suns president Rick Welts told the New York Times. "I'm sure some unenlightened 50-year-old white male sports talk radio host will think this is the sign of the apocalypse."
No, it's just a sign of the WNBA's desperation. The sign of the apocalypse will be when Chris Paul is introduced in a General Motors jersey. That's the day American sports can officially file for moral bankruptcy.
I'm not against corporate sponsorships, ads painted on outfield walls or NASCAR drivers being human billboards. We all cringed the first time we heard "Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl," but over time we've become conditioned to having names we grew up with changed to names of things we buy.
If Port-O-Let offered me $10 million a year to name my stadium after its toilets, I'd gladly hold my nose and take it. But a jersey is different. It bears the name of a city and people you represent. Replacing it with an erectile dysfunction pill is going too far.
"They do this in European ball all the time," said Rick Davis, LifeLock's CEO. "It's not a sellout."
America has a weird fascination with Europe, where 50-year-old while male sports talk radio hosts are much more hip. Our sports executives have long envied how Old Continent teams often go by corporate names.
Europeans also smoke too much, they don't use deodorant and the women have hairy underarms. Just because something is acceptable on one part of the globe doesn't mean we should do it.
Even in Europe do you think they could get away with renaming Manchester United? Talk about soccer riots. The owners would make zillions, but some things simply should not be for sale.
That's not to compare Real Madrid to the Detroit Shock. The Spaniards didn't even make the WNBA playoffs last year. Detroit won the Mrs. Lawrence O'Brien Trophy, or whatever it's called in the WNBA.
Like the rest of the league, the Shock still had to cut its roster from 13 to 11 players. Houston was once a WNBA dynasty and it folded. Times have never been good for the NBA's little sister, but they are turning downright dust bowl.
If Marlboro came along and offered $1 million, Phoenix's players would have cigarettes dangling from their mouths this season. Hardly anybody would cough, which is the real worry here.
For now college and pro teams have no ads on their jerseys besides whatever small logo the manufacturer sticks on. Well, MLS teams do but they don't count.
There will be no uproar over LifeLock because it's the WNBA. But the NBA owns the league, and that will encourage Stern and other power brokers to keep inching us down the slippery slope.
Major league teams wore advertising patches when they played in Japan. The Puerto Rican team wore "Best Buy" on its jerseys during the World Baseball Classic.
Baseball was going to put Spider-Man II ads on bases during the movie's three-day rollout. The reaction was so fierce that even Bud Selig came to his senses.
"I'm a traditionalist," he said. "The problem in sports marketing, particularly in baseball, is you're always walking a very sensitive line."
Yes, there is a line out there. You don't cross it when you plaster ads on race cars. You don't cross it when you auction off your stadium name.
You cross it when you give them the shirt off your back.