March 12, 2018

Jersey Patches

I can't believe it's March and I haven't published a blog post about the advertising patches that have been popping up on NBA jerseys all over the United States (Canada too, I guess, but just in one spot, not all over) in the last six months or so. I'm using last week's announcements by the Dallas Mavericks with 5miles and the Los Angeles Clippers with Bumble as an excuse to remedy that situation. Before I start ranting in earnest, let me say the Clips couldn't have picked a more perfectly named partner.

Want to know how I feel about advertisements on jerseys? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. Quite frankly, I hate them. But I'm going to try to be a bit more nuanced in this post and soften my stance a little. We'll see how that goes.

Maybe a little history is in order. If you watch soccer on TV, you will probably struggle to recall a time in the last 30 years when the teams you were watching did NOT have a sponsor company's name emblazoned across their chests. That's because sponsorship deals for European football clubs have been standard fixtures since the 1980s. I can't recall any across the jerseys of my favorite teams growing up in England but that's because the first club in major English soccer latched on to this idea in 1979, the year I left the country.

I don't, despite my earlier statement about hating these things, object to advertisements on soccer jerseys as much as I feel I should. Maybe it's because there are, in most cases, just one company's logo on the shirts. Maybe it's because traditionally there were no jersey numbers of team names on the fronts of the shirts. Adding a logo was just filling blank space on the shirt. It didn't require any adjustment to the other parts of the uniform.

For the most part, this single endorsement rule has held up, although recently, there have been secondary advertisements popping up on the sleeves of some teams, like the Huddersfield Town jersey shown above. I like this less. Some sports have gone to a more extreme level. My favorite rugby league team, Wakefield Trinity, puts on jerseys for each game that are covered in advertisements. How many are there on that jersey? Nine? Ten? More? It's craziness. Way too much.

Soccer is, not surprisingly, the dominant sport in England and most of the rest of the world. Over the last three plus decades, revenues from jersey advertisements have poured in to add cash to the vaults of clubs whose games at the time when they were adopting advertisements on their kits were largely not televised. I'm sure they helped out a ton financially.

Fast forward 20 or so years to the United States. Major League Soccer, the third or fourth attempt at professional soccer in this country, decided to introduce jersey advertisements into their league. They are the first major professional sports league in the USA to do this. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm considering major sports leagues here at home to be MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, MSL and WNBA. Debate that list if you feel you need to.

For me, this introduction of jersey advertisements in this league in 2007 is fairly seamless. We as consumers were already softened up to this idea by the rest of the world and, again, the ads are not taking away from anything on the uniform. There's nothing where the sponsor name is going.

Four years later, the WNBA would introduce advertisements onto their uniforms. I'm surprised it took that long. Honestly, if there's a league in need of all the advertising revenue it can handle, it's the WNBA. These advertisements probably literally saved a few franchises from going out of existence. My philosophical objection to a single (or maybe two in some cases) advertisement on a jersey to help a franchise or league from going bankrupt is waived. I'm all for this.

Then last year, on the heels of one of the richest television deals in major sports history, the NBA decides it needs more money and allows its 30 teams to negotiate deals with sponsors to advertise in the space on the jersey on the left chest. This comes in conjunction with the new uniform deal negotiated with Nike which includes, for the first time, the right for the jersey manufacturer to add their logo to the NBA jerseys.

The Lending Tree advertisement is unreadable from a distance. Too many letters and not enough space.
So first, let me say the NBA does not need this money. Maybe that's not a good argument for them not pursuing it. But it's totally unnecessary for the NBA team's owners to do this from a monetary standpoint. 

Second, I know it's not requiring anything moving around on the uniform, so based on my argument about soccer jerseys, I should be OK with adding something, right? Not so much. There's too little space in the spot where the league has designated the ads be restricted to. Some look just plain awkward and some are about impossible to read. Does that make the ones that fit well or are graphically clear more acceptable? Oddly enough and surprisingly, for me the answer is yes. Before you get all up in arms about this, just read on. There just aren't many that satisfy this criteria for me.

So far, 21 of the NBA's 30 teams have elected to sell advertising space on their jerseys. The Golden State Warriors are getting $20 million per season from Japanese company Rakuten. That's the richest deal by far. The second most money generated from a club selling its soul for money is a reported $7 to $10 million per year to the Cleveland Cavaliers from nearby Akron, Ohio based Goodyear. It goes down from there. The split of this money by the way is half to the players, a quarter to the rest of the teams and a quarter to the team whose unis sport the logo.

Among the 21 companies who have bought in, there are some banks, some software companies, some internet apps, Western Union, Harley Davidson, Disney, Fitbit, a couple of food companies and the charity arm of a software developer in addition to the two companies mentioned in the paragraph above. Are any of these sponsorships acceptable in any way to me? Reluctantly, I have to say yes.

Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age but I find from a local business standpoint Harley Davidson (in Milwaukee),  Zatarain's (in New Orleans) and Disney (in Orlando) appropriate for sponsoring these teams. I've written posts in the past on this blog ranking team names. I've always thought highly of teams with names with local origins. I'm appreciative of teams making local connections with businesses, although I hate the orange of the Harley Davidson logo on the decidedly non-orange Bucks jerseys and Disney is becoming way too big and powerful. Too much Disney these days.

I also appreciate the Utah Jazz partnering with a charity (5 For The Fight, which raises money to combat cancer) and on a totally different level the Philadelphia 76ers partnering with StubHub and the Minnesota Timberwolves hooking up with Fitbit. At least these two products and services relate to sports or athletics in some way.

Hate to say it but if I had to have a jersey patch on my uniform, the Goodyear patch is one of the best.
Graphically speaking (I'm an architect after all), I can't get on board with many of these jersey ads because they either just don't fit well into the space provided (particularly the horizontal advertisements with a lot of letters like the Charlotte Hornets' Lending Tree patch which is just unreadable) or the colors clash with the team's colors a la Harley Davidson in Milwaukee. In the end I've boiled this whole thing down to two acceptable patches: the Goodyear one on the Cavs' jerseys (I appreciate the way the company altered their colors to the Cavs' admittedly awful color scheme) and the StubHub one on the Philadelphia 76ers unis. Both are acceptably shaped to fit into the available uniform space and have some local or topical tie to the franchise or league.

I am grateful that the Washington Wizards have not sold out and allowed some company to post their logo on our gorgeous uniforms (particularly the home whites). It makes me feel like there is something worth believing in about this franchise in the midst of a mini-collapse without John Wall. On the other hand, I'm dying for some influx of cash so die-hard fans like me don't have to pay more for season tickets next year. In the end though, even with $20 million extra cash like the Warriors have per year and which the Wizards won't get, spreading that revenue out between the players, the rest of the teams and 20,000 fans or so to discount season tickets would only get the average fan a savings of $250 per seat per year. I think I'd rather have our unis advertisement free. Although any help I can get on season tickets would be appreciated too. Less than two weeks to decide.

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