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NBA's Decision to Advertise on Jerseys Will Drive Fans Away from Buying New Gear

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat defends in the first quarter against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Bryant WestCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2012

NBA fans will have until the 2013-2014 season to buy good, old-fashioned NBA jerseys. After that? We’ll have to decide if wearing a jersey is worth turning into a walking billboard for the highest bidder.

A report by the Associated Press says the NBA will likely start selling ad spaces on both their player and retail jerseys as of next year. Commissioner David Stern said the move might bring in as much as $100 million for the league.

It’s hard to turn down those big bucks, but it could be a mistake if fans kill the jersey revenue by refusing to buy these new ad-bearing uniforms.

According to Scott Howard-Cooper from NBA.com, current ads will be 2.5 by 2.5 inches and will be lined up just above the heart on the jerseys.  This means they’ll be right over the team or city name. It makes complete sense that advertisers would want their product in prime territory, but this spot is easily the most annoying. It’ll look like part of the actual name… Here come your State Farm Knicks!

 Here is a quote from Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, as quoted by the Associated Press.

"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.”

It isn’t surprising that the ads will be on retail jerseys. It isn’t enough to turn the players into basketball shooting product placement—fans are the big money makers!

Would the NFL or Major League Baseball consider putting ad logos on their jerseys? Sure doesn’t seem like it. MLB commissioner Bud Selig told ESPN Radio 1000, "You learn never to say never, but you know, with us, uniforms are really important… They're history."  A commissioner seeing the importance of jerseys… imagine that!

As for Roger Goodell and the NFL? They’re too busy making their big bucks elsewhere. Why is the NBA putting ads on jerseys when none of the other four major USA sports are looking into the idea? Why lower the association to the standards of the less successful NASCAR, Major League Soccer and WNBA?

Jerseys are the only sacred thing left for NBA fans. The rest of the NBA experience is nothing but ads. First comes the name on the arena (Power Balance Pavilion, anyone? Staples Center?). Next comes the millions of ads around the concourse. Time outs have become commercials—it’s time for the KFC Wiener Dog races! Heck, we've even been conditioned to hope for ads… our team scored 100 points? Free Tacos from Carl’s Jr.!

The only part of the NBA experience that isn’t already an ad is the jerseys. Jerseys are ads for teams, but that is the point. When fans buy a jersey, it’s because we want to show our support for the player and team. If we wanted to display our love for Burger King, we’d go buy one of their shirts.

“So what?” asks the casual fan. “It’s a tiny patch…” The problem with this approach, dear fans, is the road it leads down—just look at the WNBA.

An excellent piece on the matter was written by Zebulun Benbrook at welcometoloudcity.com. He pointed to the absolutely horrific WNBA jerseys plastered with advertisements (two of them viewable here and here). Try and spot the player’s WNBA team as quickly as possible from those pictures. What’s the first thing you notice?

You see those small patches on the left hand side of the WNBA jersey, just above the heart? Those are the team logos. The WNBA has delegated the team name to a far lower importance than the advertising. Just like MLS and NASCAR, what’s important is ads, and more important, the precious ad money.

The funny thing is that the WNBA team logos are about the size of the proposed NBA ads.  They’ll start small... and where does it end? How far down the slippery slope is the NBA ready to go?

This is the NBA, after all; we almost had last season canceled over a few percentage points of revenue split. If the patches bring in big revenue and the demand for ad space increases, will the NBA turn down the money? At what point do ads become too much, especially when money is involved?

We must admit the biggest reason fans do not want the ads is aesthetics. An ad, no matter how small, will be annoying to most fans, especially those of us who simply want to show our team pride. The only way to stop the NBA from having the ads is to stop buying ads all together.

You think he NBA will cancel the ads because fans complain? They won’t, not when the ads are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars. If we cost the NBA hundreds of millions in lost jersey sales, maybe they’ll get the hint.

So what’s it going to be, NBA fans? Are ads going to stop you from buying jerseys? We’ll have to see. Fan loyalty may blind us to the little patches above our hearts. It won’t kill interest in the league, for certain—but the NBA is killing one of the few ad-free zones we fans had left.

Where does it end? Your call.

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