by STEVEN KRIEGER, for the Sun Gazette
In the 1980s, marketers spent about $100 million on television advertising targeted at children. Today, that figure has increased by at least 150 times across the variety of mediums available for advertisers to target children.
As parents, we expect advertising on TV, in magazines, and of course on the Internet. But do we really need to include advertising on the backs of jerseys worn by elementary school children for a youth soccer association?
Our family is going into its fourth year in the Arlington Soccer Association (ASA) travel soccer program, which has more than 100 travel teams for children ages 9 to 19. In our first two years, there was no advertising on the jersey (and I’m not aware of any prior jersey advertising for ASA travel soccer, although the recreational soccer program has been sponsored by a local car dealership for many years).
In year two, when team jerseys arrived, they came with “SAIC” printed on the back of the jersey above the player number. Most of the children probably thought that ASA just got their last name wrong or that they were sent the jersey for another player with the last name of “SAIC.”
On June 2, instead of congratulating the teams that competed in tournaments over the holiday weekend or acknowledging the travel teams that were just finalized for the following year, ASA announced its new corporate sponsor – Amazon.
According to the press release, for an undisclosed amount of money (ASA did not respond to a request for the amount), this Amazon sponsorship will provide “professional coaching and life-skills learning opportunities to hundreds of underserved Arlington County elementary- and middle-school students at no cost.”
It’s great that Amazon is using a tiny portion of its $8.1 billion in profits from 2021 Q1 to help hundreds of students at no cost to them – as long as the children serve as living Amazon commercials.
Professional soccer teams have a long history of corporate sponsorship, such that the sponsor logo is often bigger than the team logo, but ASA is not a professional soccer club and the children are not professional players. This Amazon sponsorship (and the prior SAIC sponsorship) is not reducing our fees to participate, providing team uniforms at no cost, increasing the compensation to the coaches who tirelessly work with our children in the heat, cold, rain and cicadas, or really providing any meaningful benefit to the children who are promoting Amazon with its corporate name and logo on their backs.
I don’t have an issue with ASA obtaining corporate sponsors – from Amazon or anyone else. I’m a small-business owner, so I appreciate the need to market your business. And while I’m not convinced that Amazon is going to provide the magnitude of benefit to Arlington that the County Board expects, this is not about the pros and cons of Amazon coming to Arlington.
This is about a constant barrage of commercialism targeted at our children, and ASA’s decision to use our children as the medium to promote the commercialization to other children in Arlington and those competing against our teams.
According to the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, children already spend approximately four to five hours a day in front of a screen for entertainment and social-media purposes, with the corresponding advertisements. Our elementary school age children see more than 25,000 advertisements a year.
There is a growing body of research suggesting that marketing to children contributes to a host of psychological and behavioral problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, childhood obesity, eating disorders, increased violence and family stress – in addition to excessive materialism.
We are paying to participate in ASA, and now we are paying for our children to serve as advertisements for Amazon every time they take the field in their jerseys.
Our children already see enough advertisements. They do not need to be the advertisement, as well.