David Foster Wallace predicted this. Anyone who’s read 100 pages of Infinite Jest (that’s about as far as I got) will recall the author foreshadowing “subsidized time” including the “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” (the “Trial-Size Dove Bar” and “Perdue Wonderchicken” also sponsored years in Wallace’s alternate universe).
We’ve seen capitalism evolve quite a bit since Wallace first graced the world with his literary masterpiece in 1996. Obviously, the ideas presented by Wallace were meant to be satirical, but with subtlety all but non-existent in our current, shameless climate of brand awareness, naming a year after a sandwich (my vote is for the Arby’s Meat Mountain) or some other form of corporate excess has become a believable premise. So, it should come as no surprise then, in a sports landscape inhabited by increasingly blatant displays of product placement, that Michigan State basketball has taken the plunge, rebranding as the “MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage.”
Rocket Mortgage’s parent company, Quicken Loans, was co-founded by Dan Gilbert (who also owns the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers), an alum of MSU and one of the school’s largest donors. This level of brand synergy is unprecedented in college sports, though it’s more common at the professional level, as evidenced by MLS’ “New York Red Bulls” and the NHL renaming its divisions this year (the Bruins, Capitals, Devils, Flyers, Islanders, Penguins, Rangers and Sabres all play in the “MassMutual East Division”). Though not entirely surprising—for years, the NCAA has functioned more as a business than a governing body—it’s still jarring to see one of the country’s premier college hoops programs roll out the red carpet for a sponsor, particularly while the debate rages on over whether college athletes should be financially compensated for their services. It seems like only a matter of time until the Alabama Crimson Tide presented by Tesla defeats Clemson to win another TikTok National Championship.
Advertising may pay the bills, but that doesn’t make “MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage” any less of a mouthful. Can you imagine Jim Nantz calling that game? “The Spartans presented by Rocket Mortgage win it at the buzzer!” Really rolls off the tongue.