Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Masters Shows The Value of Everything

Talking about commercialisation in sport these days is something of a tautology, like referring to the grapiness of wine or the four-leggedness of a horse. The very dignity of any sporting enterprise is often tied into the blue-chippiness of their sponsor portfolio, as the poor old Celtic League found in its wilderness years before the intervention of Magners.

Professional sports wear their commercial and sponsorship ties like fashion-fraught teens bedecked in brand-name clothing: there are prom queens like the Champions League, with its flawless garb of Sonys and Mastercards, but equally there are Ugly Bettys like snooker, with its Travis Perkins cast-offs and naff online gaming-house tank-tops.
When we fetched up at the match venues at last year's football World Cup, unsurprisingly, FIFA had covered itself from top to toe in designer gear. While acknowledging in advance the fear of banging on like a tree-dwelling hippy malcontent, the corporate and commercial presence which enveloped the stadium environs was frightening in its scope and corresponding power.

Easily the most dispiriting experience of last the tournament was not seeing Zinedine Zidane's sad valedictory moments in football, nor was it having to watch England play. No, having several oranges confiscated from my rucksack outside of Dortmund's Westfalenstadion (or Signal-Iduna Park as it is now known, or FIFA World Cup Stadium, Dortmund as it was magically renamed for the duration of last summer's tournament, the insurance company which had purchased naming rights for Borussia Dortmund's ground not being a FIFA sponsorship 'partner') was a profoundly depressing welcome to football's big party.

Presumably the fruit seller at Dortmund's central rail station had neglected to join McDonald's and Budweiser as official sponsors and providers of match venue sustenance, and thus his wares were unwelcome.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), organisers of the Cricket World Cup, have apparently been studying carefully from FIFA's textbook, judging by many of the murmurs of complaint directed towards the current tournament in the West Indies.

This month's Observer Sport Monthly reports that the ICC has "attempted to colonise the Caribbean, in the way that the IOC or Fifa occupy a country during an Olympics or football World Cup, imposing their own absurdly strict rules and regulations, and prohibitively expensive ticket prices....local people were prevented from bringing food and drink into the ground, as is their tradition, as well as whistles, conches and drums."

Clearly the less than bumper attendances at most games has not been helped by the dampening of local enthusiasm with po-faced measures similar to those which scuppered my oranges in Dortmund. But where the football World Cup can afford to assume subservience to Mammon at the expense of fans' enjoyment (and indeed of the soul of the tournament) the cricket event has nowhere near the same caché in terms of history and global appeal.

As OSM suggests, the ICC might be better served following the example of the organisers of the Masters at Augusta National, the 71st running of which tees off tomorrow. Originally intended to attract members to the new club whose course had been co-designed by the legendary Bobby Jones, tournament organiser (and chairman of the club until his death in 1977) Clifford Roberts insisted on the tournament's now famous hospitality for spectators.

Ticket prices were (and still are) kept at competitive prices, as were food concessions, Roberts reasoning that any spectator who had made the effort to get to Augusta National should be able to refuel at a reasonable cost. Members are required to wear their green jackets throughout the week in order to be visible to provide information to spectators, and litter is cleared meticulously.

Pointedly, according to OSM, "there are no advertising banners or billboards pasted with corporate logos. The US television broadcast includes just four minutes of subdued commercials per hour, from sponsors approved by the club."

Clearly the Masters' fabled image - sporting history amidst azalea and lush perfection - is something treasured by the organisers, whose club owes its success to the tournament's unique standing.

Of course - putting down the CND banner and washing out the dreadlocks for a moment - sport needs financial backing, and the good folk in the boardrooms invest much that benefits the mythical 'grassroots', but Augusta is a reminder to FIFA and the ICC that the value of some things is incalculable.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

good article and well written

3:57 p.m.  

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