Thrill of the game under attack from endless ads

DESPITE not really caring about the result of the final State of Origin match, like many other people I still got sucked into watching it last night.

I didn't really care whether it was a whitewash - or a "blue rinse", as some were calling it. The series had been decided regardless of the final match. I just wanted to watch a good game of football.

I'm a sports fan from way back, but I've been tiring of State of Origin and rugby league in general for many years, and this year was the first series in a while I've bothered to watch because I figured it might actually be a competition. 

All in all, I did get a pretty good few games of football. But something has changed since I last tuned into Origin closely - because I also got a barrage of advertisements.

I'm not talking about the ads they play in between passages of play that we often wish we could fast-forward through. I'm talking about the ones that seemed to spill so effortlessly out of the mouths of the commentators.

I wasn't sure where the biggest competition was happening - on the field or behind the Channel Nine executives' doors, trying to figure out just how many product placements and sponsor messages they could fit into one commentary shift.

Years ago the State of Origin was marketed along the humorous lines of "cockroaches versus the cane toads" or the impassioned cry of "mate against mate, state against state".

Now the passion seems to have been replaced with an ad-packed Holden State of Origin. Yes, you heard Ray Warren say it a number of times: "The Holden State of Origin."

In case you missed it, you wouldn't have been under any illusions as to who the major sponsor was when you reached Holden Half-Time.

During Holden Half-Time, in case you missed any of the scintillating moments from the first 40 minutes, thankfully we were able to catch up on them courtesy of Australian Unions Half-Time Highlights.

And during the entire match, in case you missed anything at all you could see it again with the help of the Harvey Norman Replays.

But if you weren't paying attention, at game's end we were treated to the Tooheys New Highlights of the whole match, for the dummies whose memories were so short that they'd forgotten what happened in the past 80 minutes.

Impressively, one of the sponsors has even managed to have a new awarded added in its name.

Forget that Paul Gallen was the Player of the Series. Small fry. Corey Parker was the Australian Unions Hardest Working Player.


I mean, I get the symbiosis - unions, hard working, league is apparently a working man's game - but are we suggesting the man of the match or the player of the series wasn't working their guts out too?

It almost felt as though the Hardest Working Player was the Origin equivalent of what we once used to call, in our schooluard cruelty, the "try-hard award" for the kid who was a bit unco-ordinated but gave it red-hot go anyway.

Even the commentators and Parker himself seemed to be embarrassed about presenting and accepting this award.

Still, if the TV coverage wasn't doing it for you, you were reminded that you could download Ninemsn's Jump-in app, which you could buy from the Apple App Store, and watch the game with the benefit of 16 different camera angles. Sixteen!

But in case you thought the app might allow you to escape the promotional guff being thrown at you on commercial TV, think again - a number of users complained online about the amount of ads they were bombarded with and had trouble skipping past.

Last year the big rugby league controversy - well, apart from the ubiquitous drunken off-field incidents - was the frequency with which Tom Waterhouse was popping up, and the way he had somehow become a guest commentator and not just a bloke running a betting company who was throwing a lot of money at Channel Nine.

Tom has disappeared from the commentary team this year, but if you wanted a sure bet for the evening, it was that his company had secured one of the first ads after the game was over.

All this brainwashing was starting to get to me a bit, but at least I could take my mind off it by planning what other marquee Channel Nine programs I would watch next - the network wasn't shy about pushing those either.

Now, I'm not naive. I know Origin (sorry, the Holden State of Origin) is big business and I'm not kidding myself that Channel Nine bought the TV rights to the tournament out of the goodness of its heart.

Sponsors want to be associated with the event and they will pay good money for the privilege of getting bang for their buck through as many mentions and pieces of exposure as possible.

And Nine is within its rights to use the opportunity to showcase its own programs (goodness knows Seven has assaulted us with enough "After the Tennis" or "After the Olympics" promos over the years).

I also understand that, from an advertiser's point of view, there's a huge captive audience watching almost three hours of football coverage and it's a great opportunity to get your message across.

And I understand that sport doesn't pay for itself - someone needs to pay the players and the league machine so we can all have the pleasure of seeing 26 blokes run around a paddock (although don't get me started on the huge gap between sporting salaries and other professions whose work actually achieves a lot more for society).

Really, I get it.

It's just that when you're on the other end of all of that advertising dollar and can't press the skip or fast-forward button, it takes a lot of the joy out of simply watching some sport.

Advertising isn't new in sport, least of all in football. We got used to sponsored jerseys long ago, we got used to the increased frequency of ads during big matches, we got used to everyone having to awkwardly thank the sponsors from the podium.

But at least if we're going to have to be subjected to all this, can it not be a bit more entertaining? Take a leaf out of the US Superbowl, whose ads are almost an event in themselves. They are clever, well planned, elaborate and often very funny.

Give me some of that as part of my Origin experience and I might not dread it so much.