A recent sports marketing development is the decision by the NBA to allow small logos on player jerseys. The Philadelphia 76ers were the first to jump in with a deal with StubHub, the online ticket broker. There was some negative backlash, but not enough to make waves or give them second thoughts. The other major pro leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL) came out and said hey are not following, but it is likely just a matter of time until our beloved pro athletes are covered in logos or at least a logo. At look at why the NBA went this route shows us the other leagues will eventually follow.
The leagues are all making big money from TV contracts for the simple reason that sports are the last bastion of must see live TV. Just about everything else is moving to on-demand, web streaming and over the top service. The old pay TV bundle will eventually crack especially with younger viewers preferring web streaming over traditional pay TV packages. When that happens broadcast package contracts will likely stagnate or decrease. With that in mind, the NBA needs to nurture alternate revenue streams. It will be hard to push ticket prices much higher, and the arenas are already chock full of ad signage and sponsorships.
It’s not like logos on players is a new idea. Soccer teams all over the world have been making big money doing this for years. Players often have giant brand names across their chest. The Manchester United jersey is emblazoned with giant Chevrolet logo – you know, as American as apple pie. And, there is auto racing where every driver and car is jam packed with logos and no one seems to care, especially millennials.
That may be why the NBA felt the time was right as Gen Y has become America’s biggest and most influential generation. Many people who started watching sports in the ’70s and ’80s generally dislike the idea. It feels like a sell out and cheapens the relationship they have with their favorite teams. The thought of classic jerseys such as the N.Y. Yankees, Green Bay Packers and Montreal Canadians festooned with logos is nauseating. For example, seeing the Boston Red Sox slap a Cambridge Saving Bank logo on their timeless, classy uniform is blasphemy to older fans. However, millennials have grown up in a different time, when everything is marketing because everyone is a brand.
In this case, it is us older fans who have to come to grips with reality. Sports are now all about money and just about every other possible aspect has monetized. Even the sacred green monster in hallowed Fenway Park is full of ads for casinos, office supplies and a selfie app. Tickets are expensive, parking is $40, beers are $10 and hot dogs $6. What does it matter if the uniform sports a small logo? You’ve already turned my pockets inside out. My beloved N.Y. Mets play in CitiField, named after Citibank. Putting a small Citibank logo on the Mets uniform is not such a leap.
It is a whole other question whether this is a good marketing tactic. Does StubHub really want to be associated with a team recently best known for losing on purpose to get a high draft pick? Do people take an action after seeing their favorite point guard wearing a logo? Is it nothing more than an ego/vanity purchase by the CEO?
Perhaps in an era when it’s so easy to skip, block, opt out and avoid advertising, burning the image of a logo into consumer’s brains is not a bad way to go. Maybe it’s the new advertising? Either way it does not matter, the arc of history only moves in one direction – forward. And, money always wins. Logos on uniforms are here to stay.