Last Tuesday, the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls officially kicked off the 2013-2014 NBA season. The Heat sported gold jerseys to celebrate the franchise’s third NBA championship, while the Bulls’ players donned traditional red and black uniforms. However, these uniforms came quite close to having one extra feature this season: advertisements.
Over the past few years, the NBA has openly discussed allowing its teams to put ads on their uniforms. This almost became a reality in 2012, when the NBA Board of Governors approved a measure that would allow ads on jerseys as early as the 2013-2014 season. The team’s owners eventually stalled that measure because they could not agree on a revenue sharing model for the potential new sponsorships. Still, the introduction of jersey ads into the NBA is inevitable.
This delay gives sports fans everywhere more time to debate whether team jerseys are an appropriate place to display ads. Lower profile leagues, such as the WNBA and the MLS, have already been placing corporate logos on their jerseys for years. However, the NBA would be the first of the big four sports leagues to attempt this sponsorship stunt. While some may argue putting ads on jerseys devalue a team’s brand and the traditions surrounding the franchise, a glance at the monetary figures would show this move could benefit fans and the NBA alike.
Sometimes fans may forget that professional sports are still a business, and in terms of revenue the NBA is falling further and further behind the NFL and even the MLB. According to Horizon Media, jersey sponsorships could garner the NBA more than $370 million per year. This strategy has worked well for European soccer leagues. Teams in the English Premiere League and the German Bundesliga now make as much as $30 million per year thanks to the sale of jersey advertisements. Jersey sponsorships command such an expensive price tag because of the high level of exposure. In addition to being visible to TV cameras, the ads would also be placed on all jerseys being sold to fans, which would essentially make everyone who bought a jersey a walking billboard for the corporation. Jersey sponsorships could easily challenge stadium naming rights as the most lucrative sponsorship deal in team sports.
It is unlikely that a fan will stop supporting their team just because ads have been placed on the players’ jerseys. Really, the worst thing that could happen to an NBA team is decreased merchandise sales and maybe some nasty comments on social media. There will always be those who argue that ads will ruin a team’s brand or compromise the historical traditions of a franchise, but the increased revenue would ultimately benefit the fans. It would allow teams to sign better free agents, upgrade facilities or perhaps even cut ticket prices for its supporters. Surely, any avid fan would gladly trade a traditional jersey for the tradition of winning.
The NBA could usher us into a new age of sports sponsorship. Someday, the NFL and the MLB could decide to start selling jersey ads as well. Professional sports are a competition on and off the field, and if one league can profit from jersey ad sales, you can expect the others to follow suit.