Everyone has a corny little secret. It’s that awful thing concealed in the heart that can’t be revealed to anyone – something so terribly chintzy that even honored loved ones would break out in mocking hysterics if you dared tell them. You never know, but even the most depraved of heavy-metal, death-goth brigadiers might nurse a secret passion for the Partridge Family that he will take to his grave.
I have, if you must know, roughly 759 cornball secrets. One of my private adorations is that scene near the end of every PGA Tour broadcast where the sponsor’s CEO stares at the camera and says how happy his company, Engulf & Devour Amalgamated, is today to bring you this wonderful championship. “We are delighted,” they begin, invariably looking as simply delighted as suspects hauled before a police lineup.
Some commercial intrusions in a TV broadcast are actually welcome these days, but some are unseemly, if not played to death (i.e., Buick’s “Igor” ad). I now live for the CEO speech. It’s a moment that achieves breathtaking grandeur when a tournament is coming down to a staggering draw between some unheralded Monday qualifier up against a Buy.com Tour guy who looks like he’s been foraging for lost balls the last nine years. “You couldn’t ASK for a better tournament,” the CEO exults, sounding as convincing as the Enron treasurer offering you fresh stock options.
This inevitable scene is the Groaner Moment of all broadcasts. We viewers, being high-minded and rock-ribbed traditionalists, grimly determined right down to our tattered kilties, all jeer loudly at this scene, don’t we? I used to, but now – let me confess this humbly – I have come to treasure them, and always call for silence in the saloon when that moment is upon us.
A few years ago I was part of a group of reporters given a tour of the PGA Tour headquarters. While our group of hard-nosed crusaders sat at a conference table, some Tour officials filled us in on the new television deals. When the meeting was opened for questions, the reporters began shouting at once, all demanding to know why those stiff-necked CEOs were allowed to sully the broadcasts with their inane send-offs. It was a major issue!
I’ll never forget the startled looks on the Tour guys’ faces. As far as they were concerned, those nervous CEOs doing the guest shots weren’t any bozo-buttinski tycoons hogging the limelight – those were the beloved benfactors. These were the understanding souls who got their companies to pony up all those millions. Without these honorable men, the players (and the Tour itself) could not live such wonderful lives. If some CEO said he wanted to show home movies of his grandkid slobbering in his high chair, the Tour surely would have found a spot for those priceless examples of cinematic art. The Tour nurses a mighty warm place in its heart for the business community. It has to.
The scene was an edifying one for me. It clarified how little room we purist reporters were ready to give the Tour. But it wasn’t guilt that made me come around on this issue; it was the soul-rending hilarity of the CEO speeches.
Watching the European Tour on The Golf Channel, however, I feel less and less the humming heart of charity. Whatever commercial intrusions we see on PGA Tour broadcasts, it’s nothing like the commercial signage that cascades down the fairways of most venues over there.
The European Tour is not as rich as its American rival. Why begrudge them their efforts at drumming up a few Euros with a sign here and there? It is because their billboard-plastered fairways are starting to resemble Los Angeles freeways. You are trying to concentrate on Justin Rose’s chip shot, but find your eye registering NIKON SCHWEPPES BOVRIL from the commercial propaganda in the background.
Billboards on the golf course! It is something any golfer fears mightily, and here is a professional tour exploiting it for all its worth.
Of course, the Europeans are only doing what we have seen for years in ice skating, Nascar or any American sport on TV. Most fearsome is what Major League Baseball now allows – the digitized insertions of ads during games. These ads, seen popping up on background walls, are as subtle as the steroid-inflated necklines of its players. Given the rising popularity of record-and-zap TV viewing devices like Ti-Vo (a buddy of mine now brags he can watch an entire NFL game in 90 minutes), the sponsors are all set to respond with all manner of subliminal advertising. Either that or they will take their dollars elsewhere.
Just as you cringe when you see sneaky little ads in the corner of the screen during tennis’ U.S. Open or Wimbledon, you have to feel a trifle nauseous when subliminal ads creep into a golf broadcast. Should golf be any different from any other sport? You would hope it would be.
The Tour, fighting to keep its style of living in a rocky economy, needs to provide a comfy environment for its sponsors. So it is not about to order the players to take off their sponsor’s hats during TV interviews (as the Augusta National brass obviously does), or put the kibosh on wanton commercial adventures. We live in a name-brand society. Our eyelids have been branded with the name-brands. I say, let the CEOs speak. Better their fumbling words then yet another sneak-attack ad.