Last week it was reported that the NHL has no plans to sell sponsorship space on team game jerseys, despite an estimated $120 million in revenue that could be generated. While the NHL and other leagues permit teams to sell practice jersey sponsorships, the lucrative game jersey space has long been untouchable in the four major professional sports.
The NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB are so steeped in tradition — and in many cases the individual uniforms are so iconic — that to most people a corporation’s name or logo adorning team jerseys would be sacrilegious.
But these leagues are the main remaining holdouts. It’s common practice at the highest levels of international soccer, making it a natural policy for MLS to adopt. Of course there’s also NASCAR, whose history of selling sponsorships for its drivers goes back to the early 70’s.
No one expects NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL uniforms to soon resemble NASCAR suits, but as the leagues increasingly look to maximize revenues, it appears likely that one or more open up game jersey space to advertisers.
How far away is that from happening? Here’s where NBA, MLB and NFL officials stand on game jersey sponsorships, given that the NHL recently decided to pass.
Sponsorships on game jerseys appear to be right around the corner in the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver publicly stated earlier this year that league teams would have jersey sponsors within the next five years.
The league appears be moving the NBA logo to the back of team jerseys, perhaps to free up space for a corporate emblem sooner than later.
Roger Goodell stated in 2012 that the NFL wasn’t actively considering jersey sponsors. He hasn’t broached the topic publicly since, nor would we expect it to be put on the table since he currently has more pressing issues.
Goodell has stated his intentions for the league to grow its revenue to $25 billion by 2027 and this could certainly be one way to grow that pie. Since 2009, teams have been free to sell sponsorship patches on practice jerseys, but once the NBA officially opens up the game jersey space, it’s easy to imagine the NFL taking a closer look at its policy.
The oldest and most traditional of the four leagues, it seems improbable that MLB would allow game jersey sponsorships in the near future.
When last addressing that possibility, Commissioner Bud Selig stated,
“You learn never to say never, but you know, with us, uniforms are really important. . . . You can close your eyes, and that Cub uniform, my goodness gracious, I can remember (that from) when I was 10 years old, and that’s a long time ago. And there’s the Yankee pinstripes, and the Red Sox and so on and so forth, so I’ve been pretty consistent on that.”
He has a point . . .
But Selig is a month from retiring as commissioner and this could be one way for Rob Manfred to differentiate himself from his predecessor, or alienate himself from fans, depending on how you look at it. Manfred’s focus likely will be on more pressing issues impacting the health of the league, such as the increasingly plodding pace of play.