Ric Bucher Courtside: The Case for Putting Virtual Ads on NBA Jerseys

Ric BucherNBA Senior WriterApril 1, 2014

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I've long espoused that NBA owners didn't earn that distinction by being lousy businessmen, but if they go through with putting advertisements on game uniforms the way the rest of the world does, I may have to reconsider.

Not when there's a way—or soon will be—to make their players walking billboards without desecrating the actual uniform and creating an added incentive for fans to get off their couches and attend an actual game.

When commissioner Adam Silver intimated that it's a matter of when, not if, companies will be able to place their names and/or logos on the league's team uniforms, the natural presumption was that they'd be permanent, as they are on various jerseys overseas and in the WNBA.

Oct 10, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus (33) talks to a teammate against the Atlanta Dream in the third quarter at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Lynx defeated the Dream 86-77 to win the WNBA Championship. Mandatory Credit
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven't noticed, though, virtual advertising and other tricks of video technology are all over the sports landscape, so why sully the real-life iconic look and feel of the game when it's only for a tiny percentage of the audience?

As of right now, the ads and markers visible to those watching TV—first-down lines in football, banners on baseball backstops and basketball stanchions—only can be affixed to stationary objects. Or so sources far more familiar with SportsVision, Inc. and its mechanics tell me. But if there's already video technology to illuminate a moving object (like FoxTrax making a hockey puck glow), it seems only a matter of time before the ability to project a logo or company name on moving objects is developed.

In the meantime, projecting ads on jerseys during free throws or other moments when players are stationary shouldn't be a problem.

The added bonus is the flexibility in how often an ad appears and upon whom. Instead of being locked into one advertiser for an entire season—or going through the awkwardness of having a company name on a team uniform one year and a different one the next—the space could be sold on a game-by-game or player-by-player basis.

The front of LeBron James' jersey in Game 7 of the NBA Finals obviously should be worth more than that of Casper Ware in a regular-season game, but how do you make that distinction if the ads on both jerseys are permanently affixed?

Imagine, on the other hand, the chance to auction off ad space on Stephen Curry and Chris Paul facing each other in an intense playoff series on a game-by-game basis. What with the real possibility of a fracas breaking out in a Clippers-Warriors series, there'd be the added bonus of being able to make an advertiser's name magically disappear from Andrew Bogut or Blake Griffin's chest. After all, a blood-spattered Tastykake banner just doesn't have the same appeal.

Ben Margot

One other plus: There would be heightened value in attending a game and watching the action without advertisements as a distraction or cheapening effect, counter-balancing the benefit of watching at home and utilizing a DVR to zip past commercials.

None of this should be construed as an endorsement for putting ads on uniforms or anywhere else. I'm just enough of a realist to accept that there is no argument that will stem the rising tide of profiteering in sports in general and the NBA in particular.

Technology already has done a lot to enhance our viewing pleasure of TV on sports; why not implement it to preserve the joy of watching in person? The owners get their money, the corporate partners get their exposure—and the rest of us get a choice.



Mar 30, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (5) gestures from the court against the Golden State Warriors in the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

• Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. didn't just step inside Oracle Arena for the first time since his dad Tim Sr., last played there 18 years ago; it was his first return to the Bay Area since the Warriors traded his dad to the Miami Heat. That led to Tim Jr. calling and waking up his mom, Yolanda, back in Miami after the Knicks' 89-84 victory to find out what hospital he was born in and where they lived.

The Knicks left with a victory, in part, because of Jr.'s 15 points off the bench, including a clutch three with four minutes left that doubled New York's lead to six. "Everybody sitting on the sidelines was talking to me and one guy said, 'You know your dad was better,'" Hardaway said. "That got me going." 

November 20, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors assistant coach Brian Scalabrine (left) instructs small forward Andre Iguodala (9) during the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Oracle Arena. The Grizzlies defeated the Warriors 88-8
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

• With reports of dysfunction and dissatisfaction swirling around the Warriors after coach Mark Jackson had assistant coach Brian Scalabrine reassigned to the team's development squad, the Santa Cruz Warriors (per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski), Jackson spoke to the team before Friday's crucial win over the Grizzlies.

Veteran Jermaine O'Neal called it "one of the better speeches I've heard in my career. He started off kind of light-hearted and we weren't sure where he was going, but by the end you looked around the room and it was dead silent."

O'Neal, who has played for both Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers, said Jackson "is one of the better coaches I've played for" and that if he decided to play a 19th season it would only be for the Warriors and Jackson "would be the No. 1 reason."


Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.