Saturday, 1 September 2012

SOS - Save Our Sport!

The image above represents a new low in North American sports. I'm quite aware that some leagues use corporate sponsorship to help keep them afloat, but this new twist on corporate buy-ins is absolutely disgusting. The uniforms you see above will be worn by six of the ten teams in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League that plays out of the American midwest. This is a NON-PROFIT HIGH SCHOOL league that has sold its soul to six corporations in Minnesota, and what we're left with are players playing for the corporation on the front rather than for pride and fun.

Made by Gemini Sports, the new uniforms will come into play this season. The non-profit Elite League decided to "take advantage of a model developed by European teams to increase league sponsorship". Says Elite League Marketing Specialist Robert Fallen, "We've been discussing (this) for a few years because in order for us to generate more substantial sponsorship revenue we need to develop inventory that was going to be attractive to corporate Minnesota."

Let me clarify that last statement from Mr. Fallen for you: "we need to attract more corporate dollars so we decided to sell six teams' uniforms to six different businesses in order to maximize the potential return in Minnesota."

European leagues are run as businesses, but they aren't the million-dollar franchises like they are here. There are perks that come with playing for a European team: an apartment may be paid for, there may be free car usage, or the likes. The sponsorship there is part of the deals that these teams cut with players so that the apartment they stay in is rent-free or the car they drive costs them nothing for a season. A high school team of elite players should NEVER be a billboard for a corporate sponsor because the Elite League can't make ends meet. That's absolutely disgusting, and I would hope that a number of hockey players walk away from these teams to play on teams where the team identity is more important than the dollars behind it.

In the picture above, from left to right, here is the breakdown as to who is playing for whom. Team Great Plains will now play for Luther Automotive; Team North will be playing for Muscle Milk; Team Southeast will proudly billboard for TCF Bank; Team Northeast will suit up for Mpls/St.Paul Magazine; Team Southwest will capture the pride of Starkey; and Team Northwest will represent Velocity Hockey Center.

High school students are highly impressionable, and I feel that this egregious grandstanding and billboarding will sway kids to think differently about companies. I'm not saying that a high school hockey player will switch banks because he plays for TCF Bank Southeast, but I can see there being some conflict of interest if Muscle Milk North players begin receiving free samples while the rest of the league does not. With high school kids already ingesting stimulants like Red Bull, the offer of another free product like a protein supplement to impressionable young athletes will not be turned down by the kids on that team. Supplements should not be taken without advice from a medical professional. See the quandary?

I would hope that the kids on these teams are smarter than the marketing people running the league. I would hope that they would question as to why they are wearing some company's logo and not their team's logo when they take the ice. And I would hope that some would find the idea of buying an entire team's uniform for marketing purposes disgusting.

Look, I get that non-profit organizations need to raise some funds every now and again so that they can move the business forward. That's completely understandable, and things like pledge drives and volunteerism should be encouraged to help keep costs down. However, the selling of uniforms in a league to the highest bidder is, quite frankly, disgusting, and you'll never see me speak positively about the Upper Midwest High School Elite League again for as long as I write this blog. I find the idea of selling six teams in Minneapolis to businesses to be beyond offensive to the players, parents, and areas they represent.

For the six businesses who bought into this idea, shame on you. This is a disgusting way to market yourself, and I wish nothing more than for your companies to falter in the business world so that your marketing dollars cannot be spent on buying a high school hockey team's uniforms.

To the players and parents who are involved in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, speak out and tell the league that you and/or your child isn't a billboard for some company. Use your heads and do what's best here: walk away from the corporate-bought teams.

The comments on the league webpage are already piling up, and it seems that a number of people have the same perspective. Iron Range Hockey wrote in the comments, "This is the final straw for me and the league has lost all credibility with me and many others." Joe wrote, "This is marketing gone wrong in the worst way. Gross." And that's only two of many comments.

Honestly, I've seen a lot of questionable stuff in hockey in my time. But this, readers, is beyond the lines of acceptable. It's downright sickening. If you live in Minnesota, please phone the league and express your outrage. If you're a fan, player, coach, or parent of a player on one of these teams and you're reading this, please email me or leave a comment. I'd love to get your perspective on this situation.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Peter Santellan said...

As someone who owns an Islanders Fisherman jersey and now the weird Thrashers asymmetrical mess, even that which will likely make its way onto a high school rink looks hideous. You expect that kind of thing for Euro-league hockey and football (soccer for the Americans), but putting ads on high school jerseys just doesn't look right.

TedNes said...

My son would not be playing hockey in one of those ridiculous jerseys, sponsor or not.....Muscle Milk?---New York State is petitioning the FDA to investigate Monster, 5-Hour Energy, etc, and then we have "sponsorship" sneaking into sports?....sorry, if parents and schoolboards cant afford it, they should not whore the kids out like this "so they can play"....