As the NBA is always looking for more revenue, it is no surprise that NBA owners expected to pass rule allowing ads on jerseys. The proposal which was presented to the owners in February during a meeting at the All-Star Game in Toronto will most likely take into effect at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season. There are some that agree that it is the logical next step for the money hungry NBA while basketball purists suggest that it may be a distraction.
But how did we get here?
The sleeved jersey idea first surfaced at the March 2012 NBA Board of Governors meeting, where Silver (then the deputy commissioner) stated that in the future the jerseys will adorn a small sponsorship patch on the shoulder area that would “generate $100 million in revenue per season”.
On February 22, 2013, the Warriors became the first team in modern NBA history to wear sleeved jerseys. Although they were not particularly popular (fans, players and even owners all voiced their displeasure on twitter), the NBA announced that five teams had chosen to wear them, as an alternate jersey, for as many as 12 games during the 2013-2014 season.
LeBron James, the reigning Kia NBA MVP award winner and the face of the NBA, is “not a big fan” of sleeved jerseys. Following a Heat loss to the Spurs on March 6th, LeBron complained that the jerseys “caused tightness around [his] shoulders and arms” after shooting a dismal 6-of-18, his second-worst shooting game of the season.
LeBron is certainly not the only player opposed to the restyled jerseys. On December 25th, Dirk Nowitzki tweeted that “these jerseys were awful” and Nets Brook Lopez tweeted that there should be a “mass burning” of the sleeved jerseys.
Commissioner Adam Silver is ignoring the player’s discontent and is instead asserting his power and influence on the game according to Dave McMenamin, writer for ESPN.com. “Silver’s primary function is that of a shepherd for the sport and he is not giving enough attention to this issue. The backlash from stars such as LeBron and Dirk has mostly fallen upon deaf ears.”
Sal LaRocca, the NBA’s executive vice president of global merchandising, stated during a June 2013 interview that “sales of traditional tank-top basketball jerseys [have] been growing worldwide” and “part of the appeal of the [sleeved] jersey” is not just a sponsorship play but also, “to offer a different option at retail”.
While both sleeved jerseys and jersey sponsorships aim to generate additional revenue for the NBA, one does not necessarily require the other. The NBA can continue to sell sleeved jerseys at retail, even if players refuse to wear them during games. And there remains plenty of space on existing jerseys for sponsor logos. However, such efforts are likely to arouse the ire of purists who are concerned about diluting the league’s corporate brand.
Denise White, CEO of EAG Sports Management has her doubts. “There are enough sponsorship opportunities with TV, Radio and Print within teams without pasting logos all over the athlete’s uniforms. It’s just another way to monetize [the NBA] but it cheapens the brand and makes the NBA and the owners look greedy.”
Professor Daniel T. Durbin, Director of the Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society couldn’t disagree more. “Are you kidding? Of course not. Corporate sponsorship offers another means to generate greater revenue [for the NBA]. It is commonplace throughout arenas and stadiums, on uniforms in many different international sports.”
So how should the NBA handle ads on jerseys?
Jersey sponsorship in the NBA should be modeled after international and domestic soccer teams, where a brand name is associated with the club. Sponsors place their 2 ½ inch by 2 ½ inch logo on different parts of the jersey which create brand loyalty to a team while also creating prime real estate for substantially growing sponsorship revenue.
With this new sponsorship revenue, are fans going to associate corporate and team sponsors much like the NASCAR model? Or will the NBA turn into Ricky Bobby’s overly sponsored race car from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, with a Fig Newtons logo on LeBron’s arm?
Currently sponsor logos seemingly blanket every square inch of available real estate inside and outside the stadium as well as most recently on the courts and backboards. There have been no complaints concerning the NBA’s decision to allow teams to sell advertising in the space in front of team benches as well as the camera-visible areas on top of the backboards. Adding logos to player’s jerseys will have the same non-impact.
By: Jarone Ashkenazi