Ads on Jerseys Would Make the NBA Worse, Not Better

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJuly 20, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  A detail of Nike sneakers worn by LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and the Eastern Conference during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game at the Amway Center on February 26, 2012 in Orlando, 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There is support for the NBA's new push towards advertisements on uniforms. While I can certainly understand why players and owners might want this, I'm not so clear as to why fans or writers would. You will get nothing from the addition, not a cent. What you will get, dear viewer, is more clutter on formerly iconic jerseys.

The counter-argument is often that European sports stars feature these jersey ads, as though their status as Europeans somehow makes the practice classy or more refined. Much as I love Europe, soccer, and the combination of the two, I don't believe the advertisements contribute anything to my affinity of either. The ads look stupid over there, just as they would here. The slogans only appear less crass to our American eyes because we don't recognize the brands.

Also, in the case of Euro-soccer, there are no ad breaks, save for halftime. Without TV commercial revenue, jersey branding is crucial to make soccer a feasible business. The NBA has no such concerns, and the current TV rights market is exploding. Basketball is set for a huge financial windfall in the next round of national television negotiations—jersey ads would just be the icing.  

To be clear, there is a solid rationale for the league to go in this direction. There are eyes on their product, and that viewership can be leveraged into more money, the ostensible purpose of a private sports business. 

More cash means a bigger yacht for Blazers owner Paul Allen, another TV channel for Mark Cuban, and perhaps another beach condo for your favorite player. What it will not equal is any tangible benefit to you, the fan. Increased revenue will not compel any money-interested human to share said revenue with strangers. A lockout will be just a likely as ever before, maybe even moreso. As the recent NFL lockout shows us, increased profits might amplify, not decrease greed.

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And now here is the part where I have to be very uncool, very uncynical. I have to speak out against advertising, something that pays my wages, and fuels some of my favorite TV shows. Look, I like the bargain, I enjoy that we can enjoy so many "free" things so long as companies are getting their messages out there.

But let us not pretend that "free" is free. Ads are a compromise, between you and your entertainment provider. They are not preferable to a neutral situation. Though the uniforms are set to feature small brand logos (according to this Kevin Arnovitz ESPN piece), I highly doubt that such branding will be an aesthetic improvement over the historic Lakers uniform.

Ads are crass attempts at manipulation, which is why we make fun of NASCAR's logo overload. At some level, we recognize the falseness of their message, which is why Timberlake's character says in The Social Network intones, "Ads aren't cool."

Jerseys are the execution of a singular vision, designed to inspire awe and affection in fans. Outside logos are jersey interruptus—intrusions on a product which has the purpose of arguing for a city, not a company. 

Jersey branding is not my hill to die on. There are other, more important issues to take a firm stand on. I will still watch basketball, I'll do it even if jerseys become snuggies, bedecked in ShamWow! pictures. I just cannot comprehend why fans would support a measure that doesn't benefit fans, and that serves as further attempts to manipulate fans.

Basketball watchers: You are not NBA owners. Your only compensation will be a diversion of an attention span, one that is already pulled in all sorts of directions during the commercial break.   

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