It’s not often that you come across something that perfectly crystallizes everything you dislike about something, but I am staring at it right now. What I’m staring at is a typo in an oversized promotional mailer that epitomizes how the $9.5 billion “non-profit” NFL takes something pure – in this case a fan’s devotion to his sports team – and cynically turns that loyalty against him and exploits it for all that it’s worth.
The mailer in question is an oversized red, gold and white embossed envelope “urging” me to buy an “official”
and “very limited edition” San Francisco 49ers cuckoo clock. Yes. The “official” cuckoo clock of the 49ers. The clock itself is pretty standard “cuckoo,” except that the 49ers logo and colors are plastered all over it, and – the piece de resistance – the little bird that pops out and chimes each hour (which I imagine is charming until, oh, 3AM the first night), is wearing a little 49ers helmet! Be still, my beating heart!
It’s evident the proprietors themselves are aware that creating demand for this clock is an uphill slog because no less than five times on the glossy envelope is it underlined that quantities are “strictly limited,” “extremely limited” and “not sold in stores,” plus the enclosed oversized mail-in card repeats it again, there’s a sticker to affix to the postcard to “reserve” my copy, a full-color fold-out brochure details every single feature (It tells time! It’s limited!) and a double-sided, single-spaced letter repeatedly emphasizes how much of a collectors’ item it is, how my friends will compliment me on my “49ers pride,” and –Oh yeah! – did we mention that it’s strictly limited?
Ahh, yes, my “49ers pride.” The copy is crammed with paeans to my being “49er faithful,” “bleeding red and gold,” and how this memento transforms my ordinary, non-descript abode into a “49ers home.”
Moreover, the entire “cuckoo” package screams “urgency.” I’m “urged” to respond by September 30, not because the offer actually ends or anything, but, I can only assume, because they’d urgently like my money ASAP. Also, that very limited edition turns out to be limited to 10,000, which actually sounds like a lot, especially considering that before opening the envelope, I hazard to guess there wasn’t a single football fan thinking, “Y’know, I got the banners, the caps, the jerseys, the mugs, but what I really need to show my pride is a cuckoo clock.”
The materials contain a lot of numbers – the 10,000, the clock’s dimensions, “49ers” all over the place but what is oddly missing – even from the postcard and stamp to reserve my clock – is the PRICE! This is never a good sign. The first and only mention is near the bottom of the two-page single-spaced letter, when it’s revealed to be “only” $200, plus $24 for “shipping and customer service.”
But the letter’s coup de grace is the sentence that the clock “…will make a handsome, colorful and distinctive addition to your Bears home.”
It –“ What the what? Bears? BEARS? There are no “Bears” in 49er country! That triggered a visit to the company website and lo and behold, there are similar “extremely limited” cuckoo clocks for the Chicago Bears – and almost a dozen other NFL teams! With the adorable cuckoo wearing the helmet of each and every one of them! The letter proofreader apparently overlooked one “find and replace” spot in which team names are switched out, so everyone, regardless of where they reside, lives in a “Bears” home.
And there it is, the “Bears” typo, that is inadvertently emblematic of the NFL’s attitude towards its multitudes: cynically fan and stoke each fan’s “special relationship” with his special team, while really regarding them only as an interchangeable, indistinguishable mass ready to be separated from their cash simply by splashing their team logo on virtually anything at all and questioning that loyalty.
These cuckoo clocks are barely a minnow in a $10 billion ocean of mega-merchandising that includes $150,000 PSLs (Hello, Dallas) that merely give fans the right to purchase season tickets. (This website alone also peddles insert-your team here baby dolls, miniature Christmas villages, high-heel shoes, and other football non-sequiturs). The letter is just a little in-your-face reminder that when you talk about your favorite club using the pronoun “we,” as in “We have to trade for a tight end,” that, you and them? You’re not really on the same team.
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