For sale by the National Basketball Association: the shirts on the players’ backs.
In what might signal the future of big-league sports and endorsements in the United States, or represent an all-time fashion faux pas, or all of the above, an NBA official said this week the sport is looking into adding small advertising patches on uniforms as soon as the 2013-14 season.
Picture the Apple computer logo on the jerseys of the Miami Heat’s Big Three. Imagine Linsanity with a Burger King crown. Then, from the league’s view, ponder the possible cash considerations of doing so. While chatting with the media after the NBA Board of Governors annual summer meeting in Las Vegas, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the patches could potentially add $100 million in revenue.
The board will likely approve guidelines for jersey advertisements in September via an email vote. The NBA would then become the first of the four major North American pro sports leagues to have ads adorning uniforms.
“I think it’s likely that we’ll do something, implement something, some sort of plan for the fall,” Silver told reporters. “I think it’s fair to say that our teams were excited about the opportunity and think there is potentially a big opportunity in the marketplace to put a ... patch on the shoulder of our jerseys.”
The patch, a 2.5 inch-by-2.5 inch ad, would be sewn or attached closer to the chest of a player’s jersey. According to several reports, it would be stitched on the left side, where the NBA logo currently resides (that insignia would likely then move to the right side).
Whatever the size or placement, such an ad might as well be made of solid gold.
Silver cited European soccer as a financial model the NBA can hang its jerseys on. According to Forbes, 20 soccer clubs in the English Premier League netted $178 million from shirt sponsorships in 2010. Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, thought an American sports league could do just as well.
“I think the $100 million dollar league-wide total is a realistic number,” Swangard said. “It might be more valuable, just given the unique opportunity of being first.”
Pro basketball wouldn’t be the first to shill for corporate America in this fashion. NASCAR vehicles and its drivers are plastered with ads from sponsors, and winners on race day wear several hats from endorsers in the span of a single televised interview. Even the WNBA has ads on its jerseys. Given the bucks, other pro leagues may follow suit, traditions be damned, Swangard said.
“This is the logical next step,” he said. “The tension has always been between consumer acceptance, tradition and financial needs. Consumers, I think, are ready to accept. Tradition is a relative term to the current core fan base, and the significant financial upside can’t be ignored.”
Nonetheless, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told ESPN Radio the sport has no plans to follow the NBA into the patch game.
“You learn never to say never, but you know, with us, uniforms are really important,” Selig said.
Which companies want to be associated with NBA play? Judging from commercials during NBA games, soft drinks, automobiles, fast food chains like Burger King or international brands like Apple might jump in line to be a part of the sport on the court. Local businesses probably couldn’t afford jersey ads (so no Chico’s Bail Bonds), but bigger companies in a region might work out, Swangard said.
“It could evolve much like stadium rights have, with some of the major players buying into ‘marquee’ teams with other teams linking up with regional brands,” he said.