Buck takes big risk

The Cardinals broadcaster pushes a brand contrary to the Suntrups. Will he pay the price for his disloyalty?

I am willing to bet that every single Cardinal fan who has seen a televised game in the past two years is all-too familiar with the cozy advertising relationships the team's broadcasting icons have cultivated.

Dan McLaughlin taking Hot Shots and pushing Marshall Wireless' buttons, Hungo slipping in references to his Ballpark Saloon in between hawking basement waterproofing, shingles and tires and of course, there is the granddaddy of them all, Joe Buck.

While the heady days of Slamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong appear to have mercifully passed, the reason those commercials resonated so well in the first place remains. Few have converted their celebrity into a long-term advertising gig more effectively than Joe.

Memories of what have to be the most embarrassing, syrupy spots of all time, Joe's informercials with various members of the Suntrup Auto Family, still remain with many of us; sort of like that indigestion from overeating turkey on Thanksgiving and the spare tire we can't seem to get rid of sloshing around our midsection for months afterward.

Just stop by the Family website and before you ever spot a shiny new car or truck or receive a special low, one-time-only APR offer for this weekend only, what you'll hear is a cheery welcome message from none other than Mr. Buck.

Also on that page is a relatively stark listing of the lines of automobiles sold by the Family. A wide variety of choices are represented, 12 by my count, with the finest vehicles Germany, Korea, Japan, Sweden and of course, the United States have to offer.

Notably missing, however, is what may be the most generic nameplate of all – Chevrolet. The Suntrups don't sell Chevys. Yet, Mr. Buck had to know that when he agreed to participate in actions during Tuesday's All-Star Game that may have put his rosy relationship with the Suntrups at risk.

You see, with the entire world watching, Joe Buck advertised Chevrolets during a sad moment of reality-TV meets All-Star broadcast.

It happened after the break during the third inning. Fox cameras zoomed in on a large banner displayed out in left field that was far too professional-looking to be the work of amateurs. That and the fact that another ad with a yellow Corvette was most visible behind the banner immediately aroused suspicion.

As the cameras remained locked in on the banner, Buck and his broadcast partner, the oft-maligned Tim McCarver, launched into a dialogue about it as they verbally scratched each other's heads over its deep meaning. During the exchange, Joe actually spelled the URL portrayed out loud, letter-by-letter. H-H-R-Y-A. The cameras remained unwaveringly and uncomfortably zeroed in on that banner.

Even as game action resumed, McCarver continued to play along, as if this was a mystery posed by some fans, when in reality, it was all a ruse. This was a planned spot to tout a new Chevy truck being introduced this summer. Clearly all parties knew ahead of time exactly what was happening despite their feigned innocence and boyish wonderment.

It's one thing to have made the move from journalist to entertainer. That bridge was crossed some time back, so I guess credibility doesn't matter all that much anymore. But, broadcasters using deception as a marketing tool to hawk products during a game to me represents a new all-time low.

Undoubtedly, the Chevrolet marketeers had sore palms Wednesday after all the high-fives that must have been exchanged up in their luxury boxes Tuesday evening. And it's hard to blame Fox as they probably chalk this up as one more circus innovation in the best tradition of diamond cams, The Simple Life and the new Fox Reality Channel.

But, what about poor Joe? It's almost as bad as if he was caught sipping Miller Lite in some dark and sleazy bar. How can he ever again look the Suntrups straight in the eye?

Then again, maybe it won't be all that difficult, as Buck stopped looking the rest of us in the eye a long time ago.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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