The advertisers’ referee

You have seen film clips of football games from the 30’s. Can you imagine one of those games - at a critical point - screeching to a halt. So that a car maker could drive his newest model around the outside of the field. When the rolling advertisement was finished, an advert referee would signal for the game to resume. Can you picture such a thing?

Can you picture Babe Ruth, bases loaded, cooling his heels? Waiting for an insurance company’s banner to be trotted across the outfield. Can you imagine that?

Can you conjur up the idea that the old Brooklyn Dodgers would start all home games at 1.10. Because the One-Ten Restaurant chain had paid the owners a few thousand.

This is what pro and college “sport” has been reduced to. If sport was a person, it would feel like a hooker. It should. Because it is.

Two things reminded me of this this week. I listened to a Tigers and A’s playoff game on satellite radio. Twice the anouncer used the term “television assisted”. He told us the game was a “television assisted” three hours and so many minutes.



He was using verbal camouflage. To try to hide the fact that the event was an advertising party. And that baseball was like the girl hired to provide the entertainment. “Television assisted” meant that the play was delayed at various times. So that another commercial or two could be squeezed in.

Once upon a time, baseball games were played when and where teams wanted to play. Umpires called “play” when their watches told them play was scheduled to begin or resume. Broadcasting came along to report what went on on the field. No more. TV and its advertisers call all these shots today.

They do this in college and pro football games. Games start at odd times. Because television networks tell them to. Games stop at odd times. Because networks order it. When announcers say “There is an official time-out on the field.” they mean the advertisers have called for one. If you are at the game you will see the advertisers’ referee.

He is dressed like the others but also wears an orange vest over his pinstripes. He is wired to the tv producers. They tell him when the commercials are going to start. And when they have ended. He steps on and off the end of the field to signal the advertisers messages to the other refs.

The game can reach the most critical juncture. No matter. One team may have built momentum, may be within inches of scoring. Tough. Time for a commercial time out. Time to sell one for the Gipper.

The other reminder this week of sport’s hooker status: Next year the Chicago White Sox will start weeknight home games at 7.11 p.m. Because it has taken a lot of money from a new sponsor. Yes, ‘tis 7-Eleven, the convenience store chain.

Hey, Sox, why not get a sponsorship from Hooters? Have your guys wear padded bras to the plate. Maybe my Tigers could sign up KFC. The players could break at the seventh inning to scoff up a few buckets of fried chicken. What the hell, as long as the advertisers are happy, the game can take care of itself.

Have you ever wondered why the players, the coaches, the world, need a two-minute warning in the football game? I know a lot of the players can’t read words. But I believe they can all tell time, as displayed on the massive scoreboard. Oh, did you think the two-minute warning was for people involved in the game? Silly you. The two-minute warning is for a bunch of advertising. Networks charge extra, since viewers are often riveted to the screen during the last few minutes of the game.

Sports? Let’s call them semi-sports. They are the entertainment gals. Invited to perform at the advertising parties. And as entertainment, they have been created, shaped, reshaped, put through all sorts of rules changes. By the advertisers. And those who sell time to the advertisers.

When I read about the players - the “gals”- taking steroids I think: Why shouldn’t they? The gals in Vegas have their boobs done, their tushes tucked. The entertainers at the advertising parties - so-called sporting events - should do the same.

After all, business is business.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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