The NBA Board of Governors met in Las Vegas this week, and while the big headline is the expanded use of instant replay—to verify fouls and goaltending calls late in games—the decision with a bigger financial impact on the future of the NBA came with the tacit approval of adding sponsorships to the NBA jerseys.
While no vote was taken on putting advertisements on jerseys for the first time, the discussion in the ballroom inside the Encore hotel on the Strip showed a strong preference to move forward, deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. The final decision will likely come in an e-mail vote in September and be implemented for 2013-14, giving teams the chance to line up sponsors and uniform makers the time to add the patch of 2.5 inches-by-2.5 inches just above the heart.
“My sense is that every team would do this in some form,” Silver said, indicating the mass support for the idea that has been years in coming, not to mention the mass support for the $100 million annually he estimates would be generated with the new revenue stream.
This does not come as much of a surprise, given the NBA has already employed the use of sponsor logos on team practice apparel. It makes too much sense not to happen on the real jerseys at some point, and it looks like the point will come just over a year from now.
The only real question is why they would wait so long. Once it's approved, teams will be very eager to get that stream of revenue flowing as soon as this year.
With rising costs of running teams and limited revenue streams to earn back enough money to pay the astronomical salaries of players and coaches, let alone front office personnel and arena staffers, the NBA—and all major sports—need to think of better ways to raise money. This is the best and easiest one.
Putting advertising on the uniforms already works in other sports with very little fan (or player) backlash. There isn't a major soccer league in the world that doesn't have sponsors across the chest of team jerseys. All but four of the teams in MLS have corporate sponsorship on their jerseys, and those partnerships have only led to more revenue and exposure for the teams.
Heck, the soccer team in New York is named after their sponsor. I'm half surprised the New York Red Bulls uniforms don't come with wings affixed to the numbers.
While admittedly different from team sports, golfers and race-car drivers are covered in sponsor logos, and nobody seems to mind. Granted, most golf fans aren't running out to buy a KPMG Phil Mickelson hat. Wait, actually, people are doing that, and it's all for charity. Maybe that's a bad example.
People do go out and support their favorite NASCAR drivers by purchasing merchandise that features corporate sponsor logos. It's another way to make the sponsorship deals more lucrative, and it's another way for corporate sponsors to use their affiliations to grow loyalty for their brand.
If Red Bull isn't already working on a deal to sponsor the Chicago Bulls' red jerseys, someone isn't doing their job.
Shifting back to the world football model, teams make so much money on jersey sponsorships because the companies to which they pitch know there will be hundreds of thousands of jerseys around the world with their logo, giving them truly dynamic global advertising.
I was at a concert in Philadelphia this week and saw a Samsung billboard five feet from me. It was on a Chelsea jersey the guy next to me was wearing.
Thanks in large part to the David Beckham experiment in Los Angeles, millions of people around the world wear shirts with Herbalife across the chest. In March, the Galaxy announced a 10-year extension with Herbalife for $44 million.
Speaking of Beckham, I showed up the day of my wedding in a Manchester United jersey and was immediately asked to sit in for a few photos with my soon-to-be wife. "I'm wearing a soccer jersey," I told our photographer. It didn't matter, as the images came out amazingly well.
Suddenly our nuptials became sponsored by Vodafone.
Jersey sponsors are a win-win for the corporations and the team. In fact, the walking billboards we wear as fans can help us, too. The influx of money from jersey sponsors goes directly into helping the team add more things the fans want, like stadium amenities and talent.
What else, as fans, do we need other than a good place to watch a game and talented players to cheer for? If I have to wear a BIMBO logo on my chest so the Philadelphia Union can afford to bring on top international talent, so be it.
That goes for the Sixers, too. If Philadelphia can afford to make a run at Chris Paul in 2013 because the tiny two-and-a-half-inch square patch over our hearts gives them the extra money to do so, that will make every fan stand up and cheer no matter what logo is on the shirt.
More importantly, if the 6.25-square-inch patch helps defray an increase in ticket prices or concessions, it makes even more sense for fans to support the decision.
Wouldn't any fan be a walking billboard if it meant saving a few hundred bucks at the games?
Currently, most soccer clubs have huge sponsor logos with a small team shield over the heart. The NBA is proposing the opposite jersey setup, with the team logo still displayed most prominently. It's a smart way to get fans on board with the concept without making the sponsor logos so garish the average fan immediately rejects it and refuses to buy the jerseys.
Expect the logos to grow over time, perhaps from just the heart to another logo on the back under the numbers, eventually taking permanent ownership of the chest of the jersey.
Traditionalists will balk at this move, and certainly NFL and MLB fans will decry the decision and preemptively swear off buying jerseys if it ever happens to their favorite teams (which it will).
Those fans can complain all they want, but they've already been dealing with this for years. Can you remember the last sports jersey you purchased that didn't have a manufacturer's emblem on the front? We have been walking advertisements for Nike, Adidas and other jersey manufacturers for years, and nobody ever complained. Why would anyone suddenly care when that logo shares space with a bank or auto brand or fast food joint?
It's a smart, necessary move for the NBA. Let's just hope they can make enough money that it actually provides some fan relief. After all, as in the other sports that do employ sponsor logos on the jerseys already, millions of NBA fans will soon become the most dedicated walking billboards their sponsors could ever imagine.