Advertisements on Jerseys: The End of the NBA’s charm?

If you are a fan of soccer, advertisements on player’s jerseys seem as mundane as a slide tackle or a referee handing out a yellow card. However, advertisements emblazoned across players’ chests was not a regular practice until the early 1970s. Looking for extra cash, German club Eintracht Braunschweig signed a marketing deal with the liquor company Jaegermeister, agreeing to feature the iconic stag on the front of their kits. The deal was so successful for both parties that other clubs across Europe quickly picked up advertisement deals for their jerseys, eager at the chance for the easy revenue. Nowadays, after years of conditioning, the soccer fan gladly accepts the advertisers logo on their favorite club’s kit, viewing the ads as integral to layout of the jersey. The same mentality currently doesn’t exist in America, and the NBA should expect backlash for their incorporation of jersey advertisements next season.

When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver first teased jersey sponsorships several years ago, many pictured the same style of advertisement found on soccer jerseys. However, earlier this year, the NBA announced the“pilot”of jersey patches, 2.5 square inches of ads placed in the upper-right hand side of the uniform. Along with the announcement, the NBA released designs for three teams: The 76ers, the Kings, and the Boston Celtics. Quickly after the release, fans took to Twitter and other outlets to bash the NBA and their favorite teams for ruining the clean, undisturbed, and historic jerseys, particularly in reference to the 76ers and the Celtics. Although the patches are an eye-sore in comparison to previous jerseys, the relative small surface area of the ad was a bone thrown to fans, hoping to qualm the backlash before it began. However, the patches were not received well, and fans let out a fury of anger on social media.

In the end, the“pilot”trial of these jerseys seems a big risk for the NBA to take on. Unlike the soccer, where jersey advertisements appear as a trade-off for the limited commercial interruptions during gameplay, the NBA has advertisements during every timeout, injury, official review, end of a quarter, and halftime. Even though those dollars flow to television companies, the casual fan only sees the basketball product interrupted more and more, and now, they even have to watch the General Electric logo bouncing on Isaiah Thomas’chest. Additionally, the NBA is risking teams money makers: jersey sales. If the actual jerseys next year look as devoid of artistic expression as the concepts, the NBA may have difficulties selling new jerseys to fans who prefer the older models without ads. Unlike soccer, where clubs change the design of the kit every year to increase hype, the NBA is betting on fans insatiable desire to buy the same jersey as last year, even with a poorly formatted ad sitting on top of the team’s logo.

Even though the Commissioner stated that the advertisements were “inevitable”, the loss in jersey sales in the 2017-18 season may equal or outweigh the $4-$10 million dollars each team receives from their sponsors. However, if the NBA remains committed past the backlash, the ads will be here to stay, and eventually, even large market teams like the Knicks will have replaced the “New York” on their jerseys with a “Samsung” or a “Cablevision” logo.