The NBA became the first of the Big Four U.S. pro sports leagues to roll the dice and sell ads on jerseys starting with the 2017-18 season. The move led to speculation the other leagues will follow and that American sports uniforms will start looking like the kits we see in the English Premier League, where the sponsor even gets prominence over the team name.
But the NFL and Major League Baseball say they’re not ready to follow the NBA’s lead — yet.
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Major League Baseball beat a hasty retreat after a public outcry over its plans to put “Spider-Man 2” movie logos on bases back in 2004. MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said baseball is “not considering putting corporate logos on MLB uniforms for games at this time.”
The logo for MLB’s official on-filed outfitter Majestic is on the sleeve of baseball jerseys. MLB has put other corporate logos on uniforms and helmets. But only for exhibition games played outside North America.
Uniform ads are commonplace in European Soccer and NASCAR, but limited in other American sports. (Getty Images)
Beside the NBA, the NHL is viewed as the league most likely to sell ad patches on sweaters. Then again, NHL sweaters are some of the most classic uniforms of any sport. Hockey is not ready to follow basketball into the advertising abyss quite yet.
“Not currently considering ads on game jerseys,” NHL spokesman Jamey Horan said. “Clubs are allowed to do sponsorship deals with their practice jerseys.”
With $13 billion in revenue and the highest TV ratings for any league, the NFL is the least likely to sells ads on its game uniforms. NFL clubs have sold ads on practice jerseys for years. But there is zero consideration for ads on gameday uniforms. “This is not under consideration,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
This is a smart PR strategy by MLB, NHL and the NFL.
They’ll sit back and let the NBA take the hit as the greedy, money-hungry league that’s messing with the last mostly ad-free zone — player jerseys — in favor of the rapacious desire of sponsors to put their logos anywhere and everywhere.
Many fans ripped the NBA for the decision this weekend on social media:
But think about this from NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s point of view.
How much are advertisers willing to pay to have their brand across from the NIke swoosh logo on Steph Curry’s Warriors jersey?
Or LeBron James’ Cavaliers uni?
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Once this dam breaks, I predict the NBA’s 30 teams will make $150 million in their first season (which they’ll share equally with players).
The NBA describes the ads on unis plan as a three-year pilot program. But does anybody really think that once the league gives clubs and players a lucrative new revenue stream that they’re going to cancel it at some point? No. This genie’s out of the bottle.
Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, its so-called ad creep: the inexorable advance of ads into every nook and cranny of our lives.
But I think it’s here to say.
Once the other leagues get wind of how much NBA franchises are making off those little 2.5 inch-by-2.5 inch jersey patches, they’ll start selling their own. It’s only a matter of time before NBA, MLB and possibly NFL players start to look more like NASCAR drivers and golfers.
On the other hand, the NBA and other leagues better move slowly and carefully.
There’s nothing more powerful than the loyalty that sports fans have for their teams and their uniforms. As Jerry Seinfeld joked, we don’t root for players. We root for laundry. Mess with that laundry at your own peril.