Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Keep NBA Jerseys Sponsor-Free

In search of new revenue streams, the NBA is reportedly considering allowing teams to sell advertising space on their on-court jerseys -- a common practice in European sports but unprecedented in the major North American leagues (not including the tacky advertising logos that appeared on MLB jerseys and helmets during the faux Opening Day games played in Japan).

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, while saying that a sponsor logo will not replace "Dallas" or "Mavericks" on the front of the jersey, essentially said that everything has its price, and for the right price, this will happen.

But what is that price? Cuban throws out two numbers in his interview with Dwain Price, saying that $200,000 isn't going to get it done, but "if somebody offers us $25 million, it's done."

The reality, however, is that somebody already offered $25 million, and it's not done.

Back in 2006, Adidas signed on to be the official apparel provider of the NBA, replacing the league's previous deal with Reebok (a company Adidas had previously acquired). The deal with the NBA reportedly cost Adidas in excess of $400 million over 11 years.

The deal included a lot of benefits for Adidas, making the company the sole provider of in-game and practice gear for the NBA and WNBA. They're the only company allowed to sell NBA jerseys, and the primary provider of NBA-branded apparel (non-Adidas apparel can be sold, but has to be approved by the NBA on a case-by-case basis).

Wanna know what Adidas didn't get? Just take a look at an authentic NBA jersey. Where's the Adidas logo? If you said "not there"... well, technically, you're incorrect. The only place Adidas is allowed to place its logo on the jersey is on the tag, which doesn't appear when the jersey is tucked in (and you wondered why the NBA was so stringent when it comes to players having their jerseys tucked in at all times). The logo isn't visible on the on-court shorts either. Or headbands. Or socks.

(Yes, the Adidas logo is visible on Dwight Howard's elbow sleeves, but that's because the sleeve is a personal endorsement product, not a league-wide apparel product. The Nike logo appears on LeBron James's sleeve.)

Adidas pays the NBA $1.2 million dollars per team per season to outfit each team in its gear, and you'd have no idea just from watching the on-court product.

So the price for a sponsor to be able to put its logo on a team's jersey has to AT LEAST be higher than that. AND once the NBA opens up the jersey to sponsors, it probably has to open them up to Adidas too, and then you start to get into a situation where the jersey starts to look like a NASCAR jumpsuit -- or at least a cluttered NCAA jersey (check out this Michigan State jersey with a maker's mark, NCAA logo, American flag and neck logo).

I go back to what commissioner David Stern said when the Adidas deal was signed in 2006, regarding putting Adidas's logo on the jersey: "Having only the team logo and the NBA logo helps reinforce our brand. I won't say it's a 'forever' policy; but right now, those are the only marks that appear on the NBA uniform."

I understand things have changed in six years, particularly regarding the financial health in the league, but I hope this is something that doesn't change. Call me a purist or an idealist or an idiot, but when I buy a Miami Heat jersey, I'm buying a Miami Heat jersey, not a "Miami Heat jersey by Adidas" and definitely not a "Miami Heat jersey by Adidas brought to you by Sheets Brand Energy Strips". If Cuban is right, and this is truly inevitable, then I understand. I just know that when it does, my jersey buying days will finally be over.

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