The NBA is making an extremely controversial change for the 2013-14 season.
For the first time in a major modern American professional sport, advertisers will be allowed to invade the sanctity of the uniform that players don.
According to an Associated Press report (via Sports Illustrated), it’s expected that the league as a whole would gain up to $100 million in additional revenue by selling small patches on the jersey of each team.
The practice, long associated with European soccer leagues, has been fought tooth and nail by leagues in the United States, with the notable exception of the WNBA and MLS.
Grantland’s Michael Kruse wrote a piece on the issue entitled "The Coming of the Goldman Sachs Yankees" back in May. It seems the country collectively sees uniform advertisements as an invasive and obstructive measure that violates the purity of the sport. But it’s time to get with the times.
Remember, this is a league that had to borrow $175 million for 15 of its teams back in 2009 and isn’t exactly printing money. Unsuccessful franchises on the court tend to be a losing investment for owners.
By adding another stream of revenue, the league will be more profitable and should theoretically cost less and reduce the skyrocketing prices for fans to attend a game, purchase a jersey and involve themselves with their favorite teams financially.
While the NBA does not have a lot of “detection opportunities” due to the pace of the game and standard TV camera angles, the league still stands to profit immensely from placing these advertisements on their jerseys, according to a 2011 study by Horizon Media.
This major leap forward has been in the works since April, when Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver told Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk:
We presented to our owners some mocked up jerseys, mannequins, not models, that showed various iterations of logos, sizes of logos, placements of logos.
We showed them some of the traditional soccer jerseys used in Europe and we showed them some of the valuations that soccer jerseys are currently getting and some estimates of ranges of values for logo rights on NBA jerseys.
Apparently, those models and financial figures were enough to entice the owners, many of whom had to borrow money just three years ago to stay afloat, to quickly agree to the groundbreaking changes.
The next step is for teams to go out and find sponsors to whom they can sell the uniform patches. It’s expected that the price of the advertisements will scale with Forbes’ valuation of each franchise.
It’s likely that many owners would have liked to start the upcoming season with the patch, but Silver explained to the Associated Press the reasoning behind waiting until 2013:
The view is, that the teams would need a significant time; one, to sell the patch; and number two, for Adidas to manufacture the uniforms, because the patch that would be on the players' uniforms would also appear on the jerseys at retail.
This sweeping change is likely to be a lasting and permanent one, and it’s inevitable that the NHL, MLB and NFL will all eventually join the NBA by tapping into this previously unexplored goldmine.
It’s certainly going to be controversial at first, but you can bet that in a few years it will be difficult to think of a time when American professional sports jerseys were not covered in advertisements.