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what will fans think about advertising on team uniforms? in the NBA, we'll soon find out
When the Milwaukee Bucks take their home court this autumn, you will see them wearing their plain white jersey, unadorned with much in the way of logos, bearing only the arched “Bucks” and a number. If Spartan is the way you like your uniforms, enjoy this season. Come the autumn of 2017, something will be next to the word mark and numeral: an advertisement.
This spring, after years of speculation, planning, and delays, the NBA announced that the 2017-18 season would feature the first regular uniform ads among the four main pro sports leagues. Now, fear not that The Greek Freak will be dressed like Kyle Busch, switching ballcaps every quarter to give some extra TV time to another sponsor. Rather, the plan is a three-year trial of a 2-and-a-half-inch patch on the upper chest; depending on feedback, this will continue ... or expand, and that is where the concern lies for some who feel the slope progressively becoming more slippery.
In almost every example of teams and leagues introducing some level of corporate advertising, said adverts have become a regular part of imaging and promotion, often increasingly so. Once a few teams started selling naming rights to stadiums and arenas in the 1990s, almost every professional franchise got on board: this marked an additional revenue stream, no matter the clunkiness of names like Jobing.com Arena. You see the same with bowl games on the college level.
The opportunity to bring in more money, regardless of the solvency of a team or organization, is too delicious to surrender.
The opportunity to bring in more money, regardless of the solvency of a team or organization, is too delicious to surrender – the Packers being an unusual holdout with Lambeau Field, and even there, when the early-2000s renovation was planned, some Brown County board members advocated naming rights to recoup tax money. Yes, some citizens of the Packers’ home area were comfortable with the most-legendary venue name in pro football being replaced by that of a bank or cola company for extra dough.
The NBA is doing exceedingly well in a financial sense, so you might think squeezing out still more money from an ad on a jersey is unnecessary or even greedy. That may be true, but it will happen anyway. In fact, part of the reason ads have not already been sold and sewn was concern that larger-market owners could sell more-lucrative client deals and bring in more money to spend than the Milwaukees of the landscape could. The greed was too greedy for a while, but a toned-down greed proved palatable. I have never liked the infiltration of corporate advertising in sports, but I am also not a team owner spending a life in business with a goal of maximizing profit.
Thus, the rollout has begun; the Philadelphia 76ers secured their advertiser over a year in advance and showed it off around the city: “Woo, we have an ad!” Meanwhile, guessing for the Bucks has started. Perhaps Harley-Davidson, or some other Wisconsin-centric business, might ease the sight of ads on the players. Then again, maybe you do not need to be eased.
A recent poll showed a marked drop in dislike for sports advertising among people under age 30 – the same demographic most like to purchase team “gear.” If you are disinclined to spend $200 on a jersey because it now has a patch promoting a company, you probably aren’t in the demo that was going to buy it without the patch in the first place. Plus companies have been represented on uniforms for decades in the form of the Nike swoosh and the logos of other apparel manufacturers. As mentioned earlier, racing has been awash in ads for decades, and if anything, fans begin developing loyalty to their drivers’ sponsors.
Will the Bucks’ uniform be covered in a myriad of logos by 2027? Arguably worse, will they follow the lead of the WNBA and soccer with a main advertiser across the chest and the team logo shrunken and shunted to the side? Will the same fate befall the Brewers? Will the Packers be the green and gold and whatever-their-sponsor-color-is? The odds favor a trend in that direction over the reverse.
Uniform geek that I am, I regularly read the Uni Watch blog, whose founder, Paul Lukas, is fighting the good fight against such advertising. I end this column as he does his updates on the topic ... the way you should tweet if you feel like us: #NoUniAds.