As a freshman three years ago, I smelled something wrong with Harvard athletics. Perhaps it was the bulky, out-dated cleats and the poor apparel issued to me by the equipment manager. Perhaps it was the lack of music in Harvard Stadium as I threw my beloved pigskin during pre-game warm-up. Perhaps it was the tiny crowd watching the game half-heartedly.
In a short time I came to love road games. During these road games I would witness the pageantry I had associated with college football as a kid. Cheerleaders threw little footballs and t-shirts with small corporate logos at screaming fans. At Princeton, a lucky fan kicked a field goal at half-time for a prize donated by a corporation and another almost won a car. All other Ivy League teams had significantly higher quality uniforms and shoes. I was shocked to find a nice big JumboTron in Columbia's otherwise unimpressive stadium.
It occurred to me that our relative shortcomings could be fixed. Bigger, better promotions would likely fill more seats. Changing what Harvard orders and filling our equipment room with higher quality shoes would free us from having to wear heavy and unattractive Reeboks. But I understand that improving the school's athletic program in this manner would be costly--and perhaps unsuccessful. Instead of tackling these issues independently, I realized that every other school in the country had found a panacea: corporate sponsorship.
Players from myriad varsity teams have shared my concern over the past three years, and last week's article in The Crimson regarding Harvard's resistance to corporate sponsorship rekindled frustration among many athletes. After contacting various varsity teams, I found hundreds of athletes vehemently asking for change in Harvard's policy and just a few who enjoy the status quo.
There are many fallacies to the comments made by Harvard officials against corporate sponsorship. First, I doubt Harvard's argument that alumni abhor the idea of corporate sponsorship. Such abhorrence, if it exists, probably lies only in a small group of older alums.
Second, the claim of Stephen Staples, Harvard's assistant director of marketing and promotions, that, "our policy helps us attract people," is unfounded and likely untrue. Anyone who has taken Ec 10 will tell you that people respond to incentives. Corporate sponsorship attracts people through promotions and prizes. Allowing a fan to shoot a hockey puck for prizes not only raises attendance but team spirit as well. And contrary to Staples' opinion, I don't feel that people leave a Celtics game bothered by the advertisements.
Lastly, Staples' belief in Harvard's "strong product" is a little naive. Utilizing promotions to increase attendance would not undermine Harvard's prestige or the perception of the quality of play at Harvard. If anything, corporate attention gives athletic events more prestige. At the same time, we must realize that in athletics, we are no Michigan, Notre Dame or any big Division I school that enjoys a cult-like following by students and the community. All varsity athletes would appreciate larger crowds, and corporate sponsorship is a vehicle by which to do that.
Ultimately, Harvard's resistance to corporate sponsorship hurts our varsity athletes. Why should we turn down free uniforms, shoes and apparel for the price of wearing a tiny Nike Swoosh or sporting Adidas' Three Stripes? Why turn down the opportunity to get the students and community more involved in Harvard athletics free of charge? Are millions of dollars worth the price of allowing a few corporate banners to be seen here and there? Does sponsorship really take away from the sports we play?
I'm not asking for Harvard Athletics to drown itself in sponsorship. Harvard could limit, as Princeton does, the level of corporate exposure to insure that our athletic events remain the focus of the crowd--while reaping millions to improve our 41 varsity programs. Perhaps we don't need the money, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't accept a handout.
Neil T. Rose '02 is an economics concentrator in Currier House. He is the quarterback of the varsity football team.