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June 27, 2003

by Bill Hogan


There is the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Century 21 Home Run Derby, the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, and - here's a mouthful – Pilot Pen (Women's) Tennis presented by Michelob Ultra.

And now, "Bears football presented by Bank One." I don't see what the hubbub is all about. Does the "corporate invasion" of American sports come as any surprise to even the most casual sportsfan? Should we be shocked and appalled that the Bears organization has recently entered into a sponsorship agreement with Chicago's largest bank? Nah.


Many in the sports media are "outraged" that one of the NFL's oldest members would "sell out" by taking on a corporate sponsor. What's the big deal? To paraphrase my favorite bar fly Norm Peterson, is it going to raise the price of a beer at Soldier Field? If not, then so be it.

The way I see it, with the new revenue stream, maybe the Bears can afford to knock a nickel off the price of a cup of suds or a hot dog - or both. For that matter, if this deal works out for Bank One, perhaps they can put a lid on escalating (not to mention ridiculous) ATM charges.

Just about every stadium, ballpark and arena has been named after a participating sponsor. Does the fact that the Panthers play in Ericsson Stadium, the Redskins at FedEx Field, and the Colts at the RCA Dome really bother anyone? The Bears don't have the luxury of making a stadium naming rights deal. Soldier Field is a National Monument.

So why shouldn't they try a creative approach in pursuit of a piece of the corporate pie? And what does it all mean anyway? Do you think for a moment that John Madden is ever going to refer to Da Bears as "Bears football presented by Bank One?" Not likely.

Are the Bears going to change the name of their website to bearsfootballpresentedbybankone.com? I doubt it. They will inundate their fans with ubiquitous references to their "presenting partner." After a while, people will learn to ignore the co-branding ploy; like we ignore website banner ads and Mike Ditka commercials.

Sportswriters are riled up over this "unholy alliance." But, ironically, it was these very same Chicago Bears that originally entered the NFL as the Decatur Staleys – named after the Staley Starch Company. The Bears' NFC North rivals in Green Bay are still named after the team's first sponsor, the Indian Packing Company.

For the life of me I can't figure out how Bank One plans to garner enough brand recognition to make this partnership worthwhile. ATMs above the urinals, maybe. Or tellers working the concession stand; "gimme a beer and a dog and deposit what's left of my paycheck into my savings account."

It seems that Bears' president and CEO Ted Phillips may have pulled a fast one on the nation's sixth largest bank. Of course, $30 million over 12 years doesn't even buy a decent cornerback these days.

Football fans spend every fall watching the NFL on FOX brought to you by Visa. We all know that Southwest is the official airlines of the NFL – it's been drummed into our subconscious. On the Sunday evening edition of SportsCenter they are proud to present the Gatorade play of the day and the Coors Light performer of the week.

For better or worse, we've all become conditioned to "brought to you by" and "sponsored by" and "presented by" to the point where we've become oblivious to it. Like that post-it note stuck to the refrigerator door reminding you to clean the garage, the longer it's there the easier it becomes to ignore.

Times are tough. If we have to put up with "presented by" in order to keep ticket and concession prices in line, if the extra income can somehow help the team put a better product on the field, then more power to 'em.

The Green Bay Packers are booking wedding receptions in the stadium banquet hall. Are they selling out? Are they setting a dangerous precedent? (I wonder if there's an extra charge to get Brett Favre as the ring bearer.)

Come September, Soldier Field will be filled with die hard fans chanting "Go Bears." I doubt anyone will be hollering "Go Bears football presented by Bank One." If I were them, I'd get as much of that $30 million as I could up front.



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