When it comes to advertisements on jerseys, Commissioner Adam Silver’s position has remained clear: he wants them.
In an interview with Michael McCarthy in Advertising Age, he proclaimed that the switch would come within the next five years. According to him, “almost all” of the NBA’s corporate sponsors are on board with putting their logos on players’ jerseys.
“I think it’s coming,” he said. “It’s inevitable. It’s such as enormous opportunity for our sponsors to connect with us. I think the marketplace is asking for it.”
Preparations are already being made. Paul Lukas of Uni Watch noticed a very subtle difference in the new Charlotte Hornets jerseys this season. The NBA logo, which has historically resided on the front of the uniform, was relocated to the backside of the jersey just above the players’ names. It’s believed that other organizations will follow in the coming seasons, and it is most likely to make room for the eventual advertisements.
According to CBS-Sports, the NBA and ESPN have already had discussions about selling jersey advertisements specifically for the NBA Finals. Additionally, Turner Sports already reserves the rights to do the same for All-Star Game jerseys beginning in 2017.
Although Silver refuses to put a number on how much an individual team would make with this venture per season, a league estimate conducted two years ago said it could be worth as much as $100 million a year to the NBA, according to CBS-Sports. According to Sports Business Journal, if the NBA begins to sell advertisements on its jerseys, it must share the revenue and sponsorship agreements with its TV media partners under the new agreements that were signed in October. Under the deal currently in place, each individual franchise maintains the rights to sell the jersey advertisements. This means that small-market teams (like the Grizzlies) could make about $800,000 per year in revenue, while large-market teams (like the Lakers) could make more than $10 million, according to the SBJ. This move would be a landmark step in professional sports advertising, with other Native American sports leagues likely to follow the money trail.
The question becomes: is the “inevitable” in the best interest of the league? So far, no marquee players have spoken out about the issue, perhaps because there is money to be made on both sides. More revenue generated would mean a higher salary cap, thus increasing the amount players could make in their contracts.
That’s why this matters. Player salaries are already apparently “ready to explode” with the new television deal, (check this analysis done by Tom Ziller at SB Nation). If there is no “cap-smoothing,” a player like Kevin Durant could make as much as $162 million in a five-year deal with his current team in 2016, as well as $120 in four years in the open market.
With the additional revenue made from jersey advertisements, those figures could grow even larger. It is likely that the Players’ Association will use this in the new collective bargaining prior to the 2017-2018 season in order to try to increase the amount players make. The split of this new money will probably lead to a dispute between the players and the league, possibly causing another lockout.
The biggest opposition to jersey advertisements comes from fans. A poll on NBA’s own league website showed that 79% of fans oppose the jersey ads, with only 21% in favor. In Boston, an NESN poll showed that 85% opposed. It could even hurt jersey advertisements. According to an ESPN SportsNation poll, 78% of fans said that they would be less likely to buy a jersey with advertisements on it. The most common reason for opposition is that it affects the purity of the jerseys. Fans prefer them to be “clean.”
Who knows when the time will come for the change, but it appears to be approaching soon. Regardless of what anyone thinks, including the fans, Commissioner Silver remains steadfast on the stance of the front office when it comes to advertisements on jerseys.
“It would cause a whole host of companies to become that much more invested in the NBA,” he said in an interview with the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit. “Just think about it — if there was a Chinese company that was represented on an NBA jersey, and for the affinity of Chinese fans to see that familiar brand on an NBA team — that’s going to help grow the game here.”