The NBA is again looking into putting a sponsorship patch on team jerseys in the near future. It appears sponsor patches will arrive when the NBA transitions from its Adidas apparel deal to Nike in 2017-2018. The patch would be on the upper-left shoulder with the Nike swoosh positioned on the upper-right. The NBA has already transitioned its own logo to the back of team jerseys in order to open up space for the sponsor patch. After the NBA breaks this ground and follows a strategy already employed by many soccer teams, it is expected that other leagues will follow.
No one wants to be first on a controversial move, so the NBA putting sponsors on jerseys — which no Big-4 U.S. sport does now — will probably create some fan backlash. However, fans will get over it. Not many fans complained about the patches during NBA All-Star festivities the past few years. It’s almost as if the public has accepted jersey sponsorship as a fact. Still, once it is put into place, someone will complain — someone always complains about change.
After the NBA makes the first move and other leagues see the benefits of extra sponsorship income, expect the NHL to follow next. The NHL has not been shy about throwing new things at its fans. Shootouts, overtime rule changes and the 3-on-3 All-Star tournament have all been greeted by resounding support. Sponsorship patches are obviously different –and some die-hard puck-heads will be a vocal minority — but the NBA will bear the brunt of being first movers. The NHL can simply explain that this is the new sports economy.
MLB and the NFL will be the last to go. The NFL may be slow to move because it might not need to scrape for the extra cash-flow. There’s no point in messing with such a successful product and league. NFL teams already have sponsorship patches on their practice jerseys, but throwing a patch on a Steelers, Cowboys, Packers or Giants iconic jersey would simply look weird.
MLB would be more of a shock because of its place in history. It is still the national pastime and the fan base may outright revolt with patches on Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, or Dodgers uniforms. MLB has a tricky situation where small-market teams would love the extra money, but jersey sponsorships aren’t as feasible as they are in other sports. However, the league has discussed sponsor patches on bases.
In sports — just as in the business world — there is a consistent emphasis on revenue growth. Teams have sold almost every piece of inventory possible — examples include courts, glass behind the goalie and lounges — making jerseys one of the most expensive pieces of real estate left to sell. The sheer exposure would be higher than almost any other piece of inventory. Now that the NBA is moving toward jersey patches, it is a question of when — not if — other leagues follow.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.