In this blog I want to touch on a major issue of contention within the sports marketing field, which involves the placement of advertisement/sponsorship logos on professional sport teams jerseys. In recent years this has become a much talked about topic as we have seen European soccer leagues embrace the placement of brand logos on their jerseys yet none of the major four U.S. professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) have acted on that. Well, that was until recently, when the NBA decided to move forward and approve a program allowing for the placement of advertisement patches on their teams’ jerseys. I am very intrigued by this decision by the NBA and think that it could have an impact throughout U.S professional sports leagues that may change the landscape of their advertising and marketing strategies moving forward.
The program, approved back in April 2016, will allow all thirty of the leagues’ teams to sell a 2.5 inch by 2.5 inch advertisement patch on game jerseys as part of a three year trial program starting with the 2017-2018 program. At the time, NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, commented on the sale of jersey sponsorships stating “We’re always thinking about innovative ways the NBA can remain competitive in a global marketplace” (NBA Approves…). As part of the program, each team will be responsible for selling their own sponsorship and the sponsor patch will not appear on the retail version unless sold through a team specific retail outlet.
As to date, only three NBA teams have officially sold their jersey advertisement patches and those teams are the Philadelphia 76ers (StubHub), Sacramento Kings (Blue Diamond Almonds) and most recently the Boston Celtics (General Electric). As more and more teams continue to sell the jersey advertisement patches it will be interesting to monitor the nature of these sponsorships and the reasoning of the brands to enter into these strategic marketing agreements. Will local brands try to use their partnership with an NBA team to grow their brand into the national market? Will brands be attempting to capture new demographics and audiences through these sponsorship deals? These are the sorts of questions that will likely be answered as we see this new era of sponsorship unfold.
I find the recent sponsorship agreement between the Boston Celtics and General Electric to be an interesting partnership at the surface level. The announcement for General Electric comes at an interesting time in the company’s history as they are currently in the midst of moving their headquarters after nearly 40 years from Fairfield, Connecticut to Boston, MA. In regards to the relocation, GE Chair & CEO Jeff Imelt was regarded as saying that they (GE) “wanted to use the company’s move to Boston as a way to help change its image and to boost its global profile as a digital industrial giant” (Source: Celtics New…). The potential of this partnership was quickly identified by General Electric as a means to kick start their transition to Boston and to jumpstart their effort in changing its image and boosting their profile within both the national and international marketplace. Matthew Katz, a Sport Management professor here at UMass, offered some additional insight in a recent Boston Globe article “The Celtics are classic Boston, they’re iconic Boston to some extent… It’s definitely an attempt to build that association between GE and the history and culture of Boston” (GE hopes…). It is clear that there is certainly the potential for this agreement to be a truly mutually beneficial partnership between the organizations.
This matter of selling advertisement space on team jerseys is something that had been discussed for years. Now that we have seen the first major U.S. professional league move towards this type of sponsorship it will be interesting to see how other professional leagues respond. While the other leagues continue to reiterate the fact that they have no interest in this type of advertisement it will likely become more and more difficult for them to stay away from them as they begin to see the additional streams of revenues that these jersey patches will be providing to NBA teams starting next season. Not only will it be interesting to see how the other leagues react to the NBA’s decision but also it will be interesting to see if this is only the beginning of the placement of advertisements on teams’ jerseys. Will other leagues adopt this sort of sponsorship and over time will the size of these advertisements on the jerseys grow? Is this the beginning of the end of traditional sports jerseys as we know it? Only time will tell.