Chevrolet’s sponsorship of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Detroit last week was so pervasive that you could have called it the All-Car game. Even in one rare moment when something Chevy- or General Motors-related wasn’t looming on the screen, or booming on the stadium sound system (as with Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” the pickup-truck anthem), Chevy was still being pushed on TV viewers—thanks to the complicity of Fox Sports announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.
In the bottom of the third inning, a Fox camera focused on a banner that had been unfurled in the outfield. But the handmade sign bore an inscrutable Web site address: HHRYA.com. Buck professed to be baffled by the message. “Tim will have to tell me what that means. I’m not sure, but someone went to a lot of trouble.” Buck’s partner was just as befuddled. “I don’t know what that sign means,” McCarver said, “but ‘hooray’ is the first thing that comes to my mind.”
“Hooray” was probably the first thing that came to mind in the Chevrolet camp. The Web site, it turns out, is a promotional venue for a new Chevy product, the HHR “crossover” vehicle.
Fox Sports doesn’t think it crossed over any ethical lines by having Buck and McCarver play dumb about the commercial plug. “It was an enhancement as part of a major multiple-unit in game buy,” says a Fox Sports spokesman. “We saw it as a clever way for the sponsor to generate curiosity.”
Too clever by half, according to Gary Ruskin, executive director of the advertising watchdog group Commercial Alert. “This is deceptive because viewers may not have known that it was canned,” Ruskin says. “Sports are a form of presentation of actual events, and it’s wrong to falsify events that are supposed to be explained straight up.”