The move to put advertisements on NBA jerseys has migrated north of the border.
The Toronto Raptors on Thursday became the ninth team to ink a sponsorship deal for the new advertising patches that NBA teams will start wearing on their jerseys next season, agreeing to terms with Sun Life Financial on an “expanded partnership” between the club and the Toronto-based insurance company that will include “a prominent program in support of diabetes awareness and prevention” … and, yes, “the first jersey patch partnership in the team’s history.”
There’ll be a 2-by-2-inch square Sun Life patch on the left-hand side of the front of Raptors jerseys starting next season, which will mark the first year of a three-year pilot program launched by the NBA to study whether or not it makes sense for the league to lock in uniform advertising partnerships moving forward. The expectation, especially from those who’ve been early on throwing their hats into the ad arena, is that the high visibility of the ads during locally and nationally televised games will answer that question in the affirmative, and quickly.
“NBA athletes aren’t just some of the world’s best athletes, they’re also some of the world’s biggest celebrities,” Dave Hopkinson, chief commercial officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Raptors, told Rick Westhead of Canadian sports network TSN. “It’s the sport where you get closest to the athletes without any barriers. Photographers are right under the basket, cameras zoomed right in. I think it’s going to be a high-impact sponsorship for Sun Life.”
It’ll have a nice impact for MLSE, too, as Sun Life will reportedly pay more than $5 million per year for the ad placement. That’s in line with reports on the deals locked up by the first six teams into the pool — the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers — which ranged from $5 million to $10 million per year in jersey revenues. The seventh and eighth teams to get in the mix, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic, didn’t release any figures, though Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Orlando Sentinel that his team’s deal is “not at the very top in terms of its value, but in the upper echelon in terms of value of the [other] deals.”
European soccer leagues have featured on-jersey advertisements for years, as have North American concerns like Major League Soccer and the Canadian Football League. Discussion about turning NBA jerseys into billboards has been going on for years, too, but it started gaining serious momentum back in 2009, when the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks reached agreements to promote sponsors on their game uniforms. The NBA then opened the door to teams selling ad space on their practice jerseys. In the spring of 2010, jersey ads came to the D-League; the following year, the big league started more seriously considering adopting ads.
The NBA’s Board of Governors remained divided on the ads, but some individual teams were intrigued by the prospect of tapping into a new revenue stream that some estimates pegged at more than $100 million. At that price point, even longtime opponents like former Commissioner David Stern had to stand up and take notice.
The NBA later floated test balloons like logos in place of players’ names on the backs of D-League playoff uniforms in 2012, chest patches and lower-back patches worn by rookies and sophomores during the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend, and Kia logos on the front of NBA All-Star uniforms.
In 2014, Commissioner Adam Silver proclaimed the introduction of patches on the fronts of teams’ game jerseys “inevitable,” and likely to come within the next five years. With Nike set to take over the NBA’s apparel contract, bringing their swoosh to unis, and the NBA already deep into considering how jersey ads would impact the league’s partnerships with both the broadcast entities that paid $24 billion for the rights to air NBA games and the players who’ll actually be wearing the logos — proceeds from “sales of jersey patch rights” was added to the definition of basketball-related income split between the league and players that’s included in the 2017 collective bargaining agreement — the Board of Governors in 2016 approved the sale of jersey sponsorships “beginning with the 2017-18 season, as part of a three-year pilot program.”
Other major North American sports leagues will likely continue to regard the NBA’s move into on-uniform advertising with an arched eyebrow. But with nearly a third of the NBA’s teams now having secured jersey sponsorships that are on pace to tack more than $45 million per year in additional revenues onto the league’s bottom line, skepticism about fan revolt could soon give way to curiosity about just how much money might get left on the table in service of adherence to the sanctity of the sweater.
MLSE exec on whether NHL is closely watching NBA pilot project: "I imagine every league that doesn’t have ads on jerseys is watching." https://t.co/UI6bplAELF
— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) July 6, 2017
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