Manchester United recently unveiled its home jersey for the 2014-15 season, and in doing so reminded the world that an American carmaker is now the most visible sponsor for one of the top sports brands in the world. The sponsorship agreement between Manchester United and Chevrolet, announced in 2012, spans seven years and reportedly is worth nearly $560 million for the club.
Corporate America’s sponsorship of Manchester United and other European soccer clubs is hardly a new trend. The English Premier League is littered with U.S. sponsors, not to mention the fact that five of its clubs are owned by Americans, including the Glazer family-owned Manchester United.
Still, supporters of the club are none too pleased with the jersey, and the overt American intrusion. For NFL fans, it’d be as out of place as a massive British Airways logo on the front of a Dallas Cowboys uniform. But seeing that Manchester United will bring in an average of over $80 million annually from Chevrolet, Jerry Jones must be chomping at the bit to put that space up for sale. Why wouldn’t opportunistic franchise owners want to work out a deal with their league that would enable teams to sell those same sponsorships?
The NBA, for one, is finally headed in that direction. Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly stated that the league will begin selling sponsorship space on game jerseys in the near future. Nothing is official yet, but it appears that the league is freeing up jersey real estate for a sponsorship patch beginning with the 2014-15 season. Buoyed by the global appeal of its superstars, the NBA is in a great position to make a mint from the tremendous visibility it can offer jersey sponsors. Several years ago, Silver projected that the league could generate $100 million in revenue this way. That’s likely on the low side, considering that English Premier League teams collectively brought in over $283 million from jersey deals in 2013-14.
The primary obstacle preventing this from becoming a reality across the major American professional sports is cultural, and may take many more years to overcome. Team jerseys have long remained sacred, despite leagues and owners commercializing nearly every other aspect of professional sports. The majority of European soccer clubs have sold their jersey space for decades, so for their fans, sponsored jerseys are an established norm. For American sports fans years from now, that may be the case as well.