The 2023 NBA Finals are underway and there are several takeaways that can already be formed about it. The series has been fun, exciting and competitive and promises to stay that way for the remainder of the matchup. Unfortunately, the series also promises to be a hellacious eyesore to actually sit down and watch, because ABC and the NBA have allowed so many obtrusive YouTube TV ads to smother it through the first two games that the Finals have come off more as a tacky YouTube TV infomercial than a prominent, significant sporting event.
The degree to which these ads are omnipresent is breathtaking even by modern sports standards. For starters, the NBA Finals logo itself has “Presented by YouTube TV” officially attached underneath it, meaning that every time you see that logo in branding either throughout the stadium or in graphics, you are also seeing the gaudy, red YouTube TV logo. There are also, throughout these broadcasts, commercial spots for YouTube TV and narrated voice overs explaining that these games are sponsored by YouTube TV. You would think this would be sufficient, that this alone would represent so much product placement that any more would be overkill; after all, by tethering the YouTube TV logo to the Finals logo, you’re seeing it almost everywhere you look throughout the stadium, including the stanchion of the hoop and the chairs the players are sitting on. But oh no, this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Before these Finals games begin, you first have to see a colossal YouTube TV logo ident, complete with a loud, space-aged sound effect and play-by-play man Mike Breen announcing to everyone that the event is presented by YouTube TV, just in case that wasn’t abundantly clear already.
Then the game starts and so too does the NBA Finals’ descent into embarrassing schlockiness, because the first thing you see as the action tips off is not one but two different out-of-bounds decals for YouTube TV that remain visible throughout the entire game. These ads are enormous, but just in case you could somehow overlook them, ABC has made the decision to project onto both halves of the court another gigantic YouTube TV ad – with the one on the left side of the court being placed so ridiculously close to the out-of-bounds YouTube TV ad that it’s rare to even see a player standing in between them.
This alone would already be an egregious use of product placement, if four humongous ads around the court at once can even be considered that. But it goes further than that, because the Finals logo itself is also projected twice onto the court, and since the Finals logo also features the YouTube TV logo, that means that there at least six different YouTube TV logos vying for your attention at the start of every game, mere seconds after that screen-dominating YouTube TV promo no less.
At this point, any more advertising for YouTube TV is so unnecessary as to be comical, and yet more advertising is what you get. Just in case you might have missed one of those previous ads, a huge, distracting ad for YouTube TV will pop up beside the actual scoreboard bug multiple times throughout the game. That brings the number of noticeable YouTube TV ads that can be seen on or around the court at one time to seven, and if you were thinking “I dunno, I guess it could be worse,” consider that YouTube TV ads will also, throughout the game, appear at both the scorer’s table and the two small ad tables on the left and right side of it. This means that there were times in Game 2 when there were nine different YouTube TV logos on or around the court at the exact same time, with the possibility of a 10th ad appearing if the one to the right of the scoreboard were to pop up at that moment.
When all the table ads are promoting YouTube TV, it briefly creates one of the most hideous images you’ll ever see in an American sporting event – an equinox in which three different gargantuan, impossible-to-miss ads for the same product are not just on the same side of the court at the same time, but are so close to one another other that they’re practically touching. It doesn’t matter what your tolerance for product placement is, I defy anyone to look at the image above and insist that this level of corporate shilling isn’t utterly unnecessary and delegitimizing. This is a level of soul-selling that would be out of place in a regular season G-League game, and yet you can find it now in the NBA Finals.
But wait, there’s more (literally). Just in case this hideous onslaught of red logos still wasn’t enough, the broadcasts on ABC feature multiple in-game ad reads by Mike Breen for YouTube TV – the second of which is actually a pre-planned discussion segment in which Breen asks Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, the other commentators, what they want to see more and less of in honor of the fact that YouTube TV purportedly offers more channels for less than the cost of cable. “Time for More/Less, brought to you by YouTube TV,” Breen announced at the 7:49 mark of the third quarter of Game 2, with Denver leading 68-66. “Get more than cable for less than cable. What do you want more of, guys?”
It’s worth mentioning that some of the digital court ads do eventually shift to featuring the logos of other sponsors like CarMax and Tissot instead of YouTube TV, but that doesn’t change the fact that these Finals – not unlike last year’s Finals – have become so drowned in excessive advertisements that it’s actively hurting the product. It isn’t just that having so many ads on screen at once makes these games look ugly, nor is it that they’re incredibly distracting, given that one projected ad alone completely overshadows the players that are near it. It’s that it makes these games look cheap and amateurish. When I watch the 2023 Finals, I don’t get Prestigious Important Sports Event from it. Instead I find myself thinking, “Wow, are things really that bad for the NBA? Are they that hard up for cash or what? Because this feels desperate.”
It’s also worth noting that ever since the NBA started blasting the hardwood with digital advertisements in the 2020 bubble, the ratings for the NBA Finals have been pretty terrible, and 2023’s ratings aren’t setting the world on fire either. There are obviously more significant reasons for this than commercials, but it can’t possibly help that modern NBA Finals games look like total garbage now. After all, how much can the league expect casual viewers to devote themselves to these basketball games when the channel broadcasting them seems so uninterested in them that they’re actively searching for ways to make the action less visible behind promos? Why should newcomers give these games a shot when the product keeps disrespecting them by insisting that they need to see an eighth or ninth variation of the same ad at the same time, during the actual games, in order to remember a company’s existence?
Sponsorships are an inseparable part of sports and we’ve all had to learn to live with seeing a plethora of them over the course of a game, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a point where we’re being subjected to so many of them that the broadcaster is exploiting the viewers who will watch it no matter what. ABC has not only crossed that line with their 2023 Finals telecast, they’ve soared over it. The basketball is great but the games are so lame and cheap-looking that it can be easy to forget that they’re supposed to feel special. Whatever gravitas they could have is instead being suffocated by an endless barrage of ads for a product the overwhelming majority of us already knew about without having to see a single ad for, let alone a million. Viewers deserve better and the Finals themselves deserve better.
And besides, if these YouTube TV ads were even the least bit effective, they wouldn’t need to keep bombarding us with them at every waking opportunity in order for people to retain them, now would they?