SuperBowl Merchandising Hangover

Super Bowl XLDid you watch the Super Bowl yesterday? A lot of people did. Apparently, it's the most watched television program in the world each year, with over 140 million people tuning in. And when you've got a captive audience like that, corporations are going to pay a lot of money to get your attention. You've probably heard that a 30 second ad during the game yesterday went for $2.5 million dollars. And that doesn't even include the cost to produce the ad, which typically can run towards $1 million dollars or more. As viewers, we couldn't escape the flood of sponsorships, logos, and other marketing material. The players have corporate logos on their helmets, on their clothes, on their feet, and even the football is covered with them. The NFL is about money, everything that can be bought has been bought and sponsored by somebody. This year we saw a beer company in their commercials allowed to run a train delivering cold beer through historic footage of NFL games, and another commercial of a Burger King running around as if he were part of other famous football moments. If the NFL can find an asset to sell, someone will buy it.

So, what does this have to do with our National Parks? If anything, the NFL and the Park Service should represent polar opposites on the money scale. One is the absolute representation of corporate for-profit, while the other should represent government non-profit. But, I think people are starting to see that the funding-starved Park Service is beginning to weigh options that no one thought possible before. I have concern when I read the NPS Director's Order #21. My concern is that the order opens the door, even if just a crack, to allowing corporate dollars, merchandising, and logos into or associated with our Parks. With recreation visits to our National Park Service at nearly 277 million (2004 statistics), I'm sure large corporations have noticed the potential audience and would pay dearly to court them.

Director's Order #21 is written well, and covers when and where logos can be used in parks, which things can be sponsored in the parks (landmarks are off limits), and the NPS relationship with corporate marketing campaigns. But, even a well written document with built-in safeguards can be subject to interpretation. It would be a very sad day for me if the Burger King character were able to serve fried breakfast sandwiches to climbers summiting Mt. Rainier, or have a Coors Light Silver Bullet party train pull into the station at Glacier National Park. The corporate inroad will probably be more subtle though. I'm sure we'll start to notice little things, like a Kodak logo on the literature handed to us as we enter a park. Or, a Best Buy logo on the Park Service website. I don't like this trend, and a part of me worries that it will only continue. How do you feel?