Remember a simpler time when jerseys were just jerseys, not Pinterest boards for big-money brands to pin their logos? It seems that time is quickly passing us by.
Earlier this year, the NBA signed off on teams having the option to wear sponsor patches on their jerseys beginning in the 2017-18 season. Though it may seem trivial, this new rule is sending the NBA (and other sports leagues) down a slippery slope.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Soccer clubs (outside the U.S.) have been doing this since the 1950s, and it has become extremely lucrative in recent years, with deals reaching the $30-40 million range on an annual basis.
I’ve never had an issue with soccer clubs, so why the frustration when it comes to the NBA?
1. It’s About Tradition
Since I can remember, NBA jerseys have always been about the team first, then the name and number. There’s never been a need or a fit for sponsors on NBA jerseys.
Yes, these patches are only 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches and sit above the team name—stark contrast to that of the soccer jerseys—but to me, it takes some of the impetus away from the team.
The Boston Celtics, my favorite team, has one of the simplest and most classic jerseys in the league. It’s the equivalent of the New York Yankees in pinstripes. So when you add a logo like Dunkin’ Donuts above those big block letters, to me, it feels tarnished. It just doesn’t fit.
2. Money Talks
Sponsorships should always be agreed upon based on organizational fit and values; but let’s face it, money talks.
The Philadelphia 76ers were the first (and currently, the only) team to find a sponsor—ticket reseller StubHub. Is that a good fit? I think it is. The 76ers have been historically bad since the 2011-12 season and their attendance has suffered. I’m talking about an average of 5,000-6,000 empty seats every game. If this sponsorship can bring them some extra money and help fill the stadium, that sounds like a win.
On the other hand, who’s to say teams won’t give away their jersey sponsorship to the highest bidder? Pornographic website PornHub is seeking to sponsor their own tier-one Italian soccer club. Maybe they’ll turn their attention to the NBA market next. All I can say is that I’d be pretty upset if I had to watch my team sport the PornHub logo on a nightly basis.
Will a team sink that low? I hope not. Does that mean we’ll never encounter a controversial sponsor? Probably not. Hopefully, for the sake of the fans, teams can look beyond just the money and find the right fit.
3. Sponsor Jerseys Belong In Individual Sports
Soccer jerseys have always been an exception to me when it comes to sponsored jerseys. I grew up with it, so I haven’t batted an eye. Other team sports, however, should remain sponsor-free.
Sponsored apparel should stick to individual sports, like golf, tennis, or even auto racing. With these sports, it’s all about the individual anyway. There’s no city or team being represented and, therefore, no ambiguity in what they stand for.
What I fear for professional teams is that one sponsor won’t be enough. Soon, we’ll be looking at several logos bunched across the top of a jersey, maybe even some above the numbers on the back. NBA jerseys could very well start to resemble your average golf polo.
When I said this jersey experiment could put the NBA on a slippery slope, this is what I was talking about. If one sponsor per team can net the NBA an extra $100 million, why wouldn’t they double down?
I understand that sports are money-driven businesses and will always be that way. My issue has never been with that. My issue is that certain areas are becoming too corporate-focused.
You can add logos to your arena floors, your TV telecasts, or even your team warm-ups; but please, I beg of you, keep the jerseys sacred.