Excerpt 2 Offensive Lines: Sport State Synergy in an Era of Perpetual War
Capitalizing on War
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the NFL had made a multimillion-dollar commitment to encourage tourism in New York City by providing free promotional time on radio and television networks, donating money to the cityâ€™s September 11 commemoration, and establishing the NFL Disaster Relief Fund. The relationship between the league and the city culminated, in September 2002, in the inaugural Kickoff Live, a glitzy, star-studded music and football festival held in Times Square to celebrate the launch of the new season.
NFL executives had been thinking about ways to make the season launch a more prominent event in the sports calendar for some time prior to the fall of 2001 and the Kickoff (billed in publicity materials as a â€œtribute to the American spirit, the resiliency of New Yorkers, and the fact that post-9/11, New York City remains one of the premier tourist destinations in the worldâ€ [www.nfl.com]) provided a perfect forum to test this idea. Although the NFL enjoys the healthiest television ratings of any major sport in the United States, the league is trying to prevent its audience figures from suffering the intense erosion experienced by its competitors in recent years by broadening its overall brand recognition to win new fans, especially among women, teenagers, and children. The NFLâ€™s target demographic groups were made clear in the choice of performers who took to the stage in Times Square: Jon Bon Jovi, Eve, Alicia Keys, Enrique Iglesias, and â€˜N SYNCâ€™s Joey Fatone who appeared with his fellow cast members from the Broadway musical Rent. The event drew approximately 500,000 attendees and was covered by 120 media outlets worldwide. Moreover, according to NFL figures, television ratings for the opening slate of games increased by 11% following the broadcast of the Kickoff and helped produce a 5.5% improvement in average per-game viewership for the season.
The Kickoff event and the philanthropic projects it was used to promote fit perfectly within the framework of the dominant national response to the terrorist attacks. Although the Bush administration pursued military retaliation over- seas, ordinary Americans were told that they could best help the nation to recover from this tragedy by doing two things: consuming and volunteering. In this context, the Kickoff offered an accessible and efficient vehicle through which citizens could fulfill both expectations at once, either as consumers of football who donated money to the NFL fund (giving money was a frequently cited example of the types of volunteerism in which Americans could engage) or as tourists to New York City. Like so many recently created cogs in the machinery of philanthropic production in the United States, the NFL campaigns encouraged people to do good for others at the same time that they went about their everyday practices of consumption, as well as providing the league with an opportunity to market itself as a properly patriotic corporate citizen.
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the NFL shifted the emphasis of its post- 9/11 community outreach activities away from disaster relief and tourist promotion to more explicitly patriotic and militaristic projects carried out in collaboration with the Bush administration: NFL players have made numerous trips to visit injured soldiers; the league pledged to donate football equipment to all teams associated with the military; and it has also worked in partnership with the government on Operation Tribute to Freedom, a program designed to â€œreinforce the bond between the citizen and the militaryâ€ and to â€œhelp Americans express their support for the troops who are returning from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who continue to fight in the ongoing effort toward victory in the global war on terrorismâ€ (www.nfl.com).
It was under the auspices of the Tribute to Freedom program that the league staged the second Kickoff Live (presented by Pepsi Vanilla, the â€œNot-Too-Vanilla Vanillaâ€) in September 2003. This time the Kickoff took place on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and included performances by Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, and Aretha Franklin, who sang the national anthem. The 300,000- strong crowd included 25,000 troops and their families shipped in for the event by the Department of Defense with the promise of a free t-shirt and prime concert viewing. Publicity materials noted that the purpose of this â€œnew traditionâ€ was to â€œcelebrate the resilient and indomitable spirit of Americaâ€ (www.nfl.com) through a focus on veterans of the â€œGlobal War on Terrorism.â€ Following the concert, the season opener between the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets was televised on a series of jumbotrons erected especially for the occasion.
With the help of US$2.5 million dollars from cosponsors Pepsi, the NFL paid US$10 million dollars to stage this peculiar, though oddly synchronistic, mixture of patriotic, hypermasculine, family friendly entertainment. As a series of articles inÂ The Washington PostÂ andÂ The Washington TimesÂ pointed out, this was the first time in history that a private business had been permitted to take over most of the land between the Monument and the Capitol grounds, and for 11 days to boot (Barker, 2003; Fisher, 2003; Montgomery, 2003). Although the event was framed as a philanthropic public service, most likely in order to comply with rules about commercial activities on the Mall, the NFL was clearly the financial and creative driving force behind the event: Paul Tagliabue apparently proposed the idea to General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May of that year. Moreover, the extent to which the military presence was micromanaged is evidenced in the claim made by David Montgomery of The Washington Post that â€œat the request of the NFL, the Pentagon encouraged service people to wear their short-sleeve, open-collar uniforms, to make a good impression on TVâ€ (2003, p. C1). Although the Pentagon is officially prohibited from participating in corporate promotions, by folding the Kickoff into the Tribute to Freedom program, it was able to promote the event quite freely on its Web site and in communications with service personnel.
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