Ads on U.S. Pro Sports Uniforms: Corruption By Market Values?

business_ethics_highlights_2Some, in the mode of Michael Sandel, will maintain the recent announcement that uniforms for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers will carry StubHub advertisements beginning in the 2017-18 season is a worrisome example of the march of market society—the corruption of longstanding social norms and values by market norms and values. However, as the author of the linked piece notes, there is something strange about the NFL’s, MLB’s, NBA’s, and NHL’s opposition to advertising on player uniforms. That strangeness is a reflection of when in history these professional sports leagues were founded or experienced their initial burst of popularity.

In her review of Sandel’s book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, the economic historian Deirdre McCloskey faults Sandel for claiming repeatedly that “market triumphalism” is a historical novelty—that market values are displacing other, longstanding values in a particularly recent, and particularly egregious, way. To the contrary, McCloskey argues that throughout most of human history there have been markets in goods and services that Sandel brands repugnant: “One can readily agree that buying grades in school or buying honorary degrees, or paying for a friend’s advice or a husband’s sexual services, are viewed nowadays by ‘some people’ as immoral. But why exactly, professor? Once upon a time all such things were for sale. In the European Middle Ages one could buy almost anything—wheat and iron, yes, but also husbands, marketplaces, kingdoms, eternal salvation.” Rather than the representative of longstanding civilization he presents himself to be, Sandel is instead a representative of the middle third of the 20th Century: “The golden age of allocation by fairness and disgust was not olden days but 1933–1968. Before 1933 markets ruled, in China and India as much as in England and Italy.”

The dates 1933–1968 are interesting, in light of the present story, because they correspond to the period in which the big U.S. professional sports leagues found their popularity. The leagues’ prohibitions against advertising on uniforms reflect a historically anomalous sensibility, born of the Great Depression and World War II, not an ancient inheritance about The Way Things Ought To Be. Thus, the author is right to detect a “strange cognitive dissonance.” >>>

LINK: Ads on NFL uniforms: No longer a question of if, but when (by Jay Busbee for Yahoo! Sports)

The Philadelphia 76ers have announced that they’ll begin allowing StubHub ads on their uniforms starting in the 2017-18 season, the first of the United States’ “Big Four” sports to allow advertising on uniforms, and the only surprising aspect about that announcement is that it took this long. …

There’s always been a strange cognitive dissonance about ads on uniforms. Professional sports leagues have operated for decades under the creative fiction that advertising on uniforms is some sort of infringement on aesthetic purity, a sentiment that’s as laughable as the idea that college athletes don’t deserve a share of the billions they generate. The truth, of course, is that every uniform already allows advertising in the form of the manufacturer’s logo. …

… At least we can take heart in the fact that we won’t be watching, say, the Citibank Giants play the Coca-Cola Falcons. Yet.

What do you think?

SEE ALSO:Review of Michael J. Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limit of Markets


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