How pro sports uses the national anthem for promotional propaganda

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • Why do we play the national anthem at sports events?
  • Why do we have the emotional re-uniting of families with a service member returned from overseas at sports events?
  • These seemingly spontaneous events of joy and patriotism are often paid endorsements from the marketing budget of the the US Department of Defense.
  • In the case of the Superbowl, the symbolism is taken to an extreme to link pro sports with patriotism, military and nationalist pride.

Professional sports is entertainment, no different than a Hollywood blockbuster movie.

Sports businesses have found that linking themselves to patriotism is a successful business strategy. Why do sports teams play the national anthem at the start of each game? This is not something we do at most activities.

The reason is because it is good for business: See “Why do we sing the national anthem at sporting events?” Linking the military with pro sports began during World War I as a way of tying patriotism to sports attendance. By World War II, the playing of a recorded national anthem became common place at professional baseball games. In the 1950s, the playing of the national anthem gradually migrated to other sports.

Today, we take this propaganda symbolism to an extreme level. Here is an official United States Navy photo of the start of Superbowl 50:

12513666_1008498205857964_5584510532336201664_oNote the ties between the military, the U.S. flag, and corporate symbols, all tied to football entertainment.

Few people likely look at this scene and think “This is a lot of propaganda!” but that is precisely what is occurring here. This venue provides an outlet for Bud Light, Levi’s and many other businesses to influence potential buyers, for military recruitment, and even for influencing public policy regarding national strength, unity and foreign affairs, and the public funding of professional sports facilities.

In 2011, CNBC reported that the US Air Force alone had provided 275 “over flights” of sports events at no charge to the sports team. The military says these flights are accounted as “training flights” while recognizing their value as advertising and recruitment tools for the military. By 2013, the number of overflights was 1,000 per year including all public events, not just sports events.  In 2013, the Federal government sought to end these flights as part of a budget cutback.

The methods used are the linking of powerful symbols to each other – and transferring feelings for flag and country to the privately run sports entertainment corporations. The emotions of the viewers are likely engaged – which is also good for increasing sales of food and drinks.

Both of the photos used in this post were shared into my Facebook news feed, illustrating how social media is now an expansion of this propaganda effort linking sports and nationalism.

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