"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 10 December 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Angles in the Outfield



Something's rotten in the state

of the market share - and if you

smell a rat, you're not alone.

Much to the dismay of corporate

sponsors like TWA and 3COM,

ABC (and subsequently, its

short-leashed subsidiary, ESPN)

has nixed the use of sporting

facilities' official names if

they include a corporate

sponsor. It's circumlocution as

a halftime event, as

sportscasters do a 50-yard dash

to their thesauri: The stadium

might be called "The Bull Ring,"

or "The House that Jordan

Built," but it won't be called

by its proper (and paid-for)

name, the United Center. Michael

might soar in his Air Jordans,

but he won't be flying in

friendly skies.



Should this perfectly legal

lacuna become the standard, it

spells doom for corporate

sponsors, who have already

dropped millions for the

frequent and "free" airtime

plugs that come with bankrolling ball

halls. That is, unless they

re-empty their pockets to the

networks. The companies that own

the facilities have now become

hostage to both the networks

(who are guests in their arena),

and the paying advertisers

who've spun their slogans behind

home plate, under the scorer's

table, and all along rinkside, and

insidiously weaseled their way

into almost every second of

every on-air moment.


It's not as if the networks are

hurting for jack, either.

They've parceled off seconds of

air like so much swamp land.

"Hey Valvoline, how 'bout buying

a halftime show?" "Chevrolet,

how'd you like to sponsor a

Player of the Game?" You can

have it, but it'll cost ya. This

tactic is both popular and

profitable, but when will the

invasion end? The arena and

announcements are so packed with

advertisements it's now almost

impossible to distinguish the

commercials from the content.


[Nike Shirts]

Of course, what with the level -

which is to say, diluted -

playing fields offered by

expansion-eager leagues, who

would want to? When sneaker

spots have more drama than the

show itself, and soft-drink ads

seem more thoughtful than the

commentary, perhaps it's time to

reevaluate the possibilities of

on-air advertising.


It could come as early as next

year's World Series, when Tim

McCarver says something like,

"It's a 3-2 count on Cal Ripken,

and time for the Payoff Pitch,

brought to you by the Money

Store." (A strikeout might

prompt the riposte that

"credit's been denied.") Or how

about the Noxzema "Face-Off"

each time the puck is dropped in

a Stanley Cup game? Or Mike

Tyson throwing a Frosted Flakes

uppercut, part of a balanced

breakfast? The possibilities are

ludicrously and lucratively

limitless - after all, what is

done in one medium is usually

aped aplenty by other media,

especially when it comes to

greed. The whole-hog land-grab

inside the screen might just as

well spill over and onto the

rest of the box. It's no longer

product placement; the place is

on the product.


What better way to get your

message across than to plaster

your message not on the screen,

but on the equipment which lets

you gaze at the screen? You may

flip channels, but Sony's got

mindshare even when the cable

juice spigot goes dry. The

possibility of 24-hour product

placement extends when you

realize that the monitors so

many of us are shackled to

during the day have plenty of

real estate for eye-catching

graphics and effective messages.

Coke ads on the screen's

perimeter can remind

pixel-donkeys that it's time for

their caffeine fix, and Visine

could happily remind bleary-eyed

programmers that it "gets the

red out." The machinery has the

potential to resemble any

self-respecting NASCAR driver,

who long ago realized that

commercial property is best sold

by the square inch.



It's the tip of the iceberg, a

tip no captain of industry could

resist crashing his craft into.

If they can put commercials on

videocassettes, just imagine

what Iomega could do with the

extra revenue from selling

sponsorships on Zip cartridges!

We realize that this new revenue

stream may mean an even more

annoying presence at COMDEX '97,

but if they're smart, they'll

sell the fact that storage

disks, like magazines, have a

high pass-along rate.


[Pretty Good]

The vistas of opportunity

heralded by new media placing,

positioning, and branding are

like the horizon in Battlezone -

those mountains in the distance

were never designed to be

reached, but rather to cast

shadows on the carnage. Why stop

with ads on the disk? How about

ads in the disk, perhaps 1.44

megs worth? Better yet, servers

could come preloaded with

Budweiser FrogChat, dial tones

will enchant listeners with the

Softer Side of Sears, and by the

time Ethernet jacks are grafted

directly onto our skulls, Nestlé

will be sponsoring not just

infant formula but Junior's mind



And as history repeats itself at

increasingly wider bandwidths,

opportunities will never fail

for those crafty enough to mind

the gate. Whether it be ABC,

Netscape, Microsoft or some

as-yet-uninstalled media heavy

of tomorrow, someone will always

see the value of wiping the

slate clean of all advertising

(except, perhaps, of those

who've ponied up the extra bucks

to remain unfiltered). Getting

it from both sides, the

gatekeepers would command a

skybox view of what could turn

out to be a whole new ballgame.

courtesy of Howard Go-Sell