Growing up in Texas, I learned that God and guns were important, but football – well, football was the real religion.
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So I can understand the hyperbolic exuberance of a radio hypester in Montgomery, Alabama, who declared that the December 20 Camellia Bowl was “going to be the biggest event Montgomery has ever had.” Really – bigger even than Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on one of the city’s buses in 1955, igniting America’s historic civil right movement? Maybe not that big, but still, this game must be a rich part of Montgomery’s history, right?
Not exactly. It’s actually a TV production, created and owned by ESPN, the all-sports channel based in Connecticut. The bowl’s less-than-historic debut drew two low-tier teams, one with a mediocre 7-6 season record, and the other with a more-mediocre record of 6 wins and 6 losses. Even Montgomery’s mayor admitted that the town was hardly awash in excitement about the Camellia Bowl. But the game had a corporate sponsor and could count on bulk purchases of tickets by other corporations, so who needs fans, when the real play is about programming for ESPN, TV exposure for the corporate sponsor, and tax-deductible entertainment for corporate ticket buyers?
The Camellia fabrication is hardly unusual in today’s galaxy of corporate bowl games. Of this season’s 39 holiday match ups, 11 are owned by ESPN. And forget tradition – corporate sponsors are in it for themselves, promiscuously hopping from one bowl to another. In the current go-round, 12 bowl games find themselves in the arms of different corporate partners than a year ago.
Instead of sponsors simply bringing the games to us, the games now bring us to the sponsors, supplanting the vitality of college sportsmanship with the vacuousness of corporate salesmanship.