Recently, there has been talk in the NBA sphere of developing a system to place advertisements on jerseys. The issue of jersey advertisement has been lingering for some time, but has garnered much more focus with Adam Silver as the new commissioner. In fact, Silver himself noted that ads on jerseys seemed to be ‘inevitable.’ There are various theories that claim the NBA’s interest in sleeved jerseys, as well as jersey designs with the NBA logo on the back of the jersey are simply working ideas on how to get the most out of ads on jerseys.  The basic idea, from what has been discussed, would be to place some type of small patch on the jersey in order for corporate sponsors to advertise on the jerseys of players. With that noted, it is helpful to look at the potential issues with such a major decision. I believe there are two distinct types of issues regarding this decision: the first is regarding current sponsorships with individual players, the second is regarding the notion of losing some type of purity of the game.

 NBA Player Sponsorships

Given the fact that many players have their own sponsorships outside of the league, it is reasonable to predict that if the NBA decides to place advertisements on jerseys, there will be a conflict of interest to at least some degree. A company which endorses a player will not want that player to wear rival corporations’ logos, even if they are for the entire team or even the league. For instance, a player which has an exclusive endorsement from Gatorade may play on a team where the sponsoring company was Powerade: clear conflict of interest. This conflict of interest could play out a few different ways, but it is safe to say that once the decision to place ads on jerseys is made, logistical and business conflicts such as these will work themselves out through negotiations between the NBA, sponsoring corporations, and the players union.

Purity of the Game

The other issue raised with this subject is the idea that advertisement on the jersey may somehow subtract from the purity of the game. The idea is that too much corporate interest in the sport will take away the tradition of teams in meaningful ways that are bad for the NBA and the sport of basketball as a whole. This is actually quite a strange notion! Currently, when you compare sports leagues in the United States with those in other countries, US sports leagues are among the few which do not allow corporate sponsorship on jerseys. If one was to think critically about it, they would likely expect that this type of corporate and market interest would be close to the highest in the United States, simply based on the consumerism culture which exists. In most sports abroad (and in soccer, as well as the WNBA, here in the US), having advertisements on jerseys is the norm – it is something which is accepted and expected. I have one initial thought that may shed some light as to why there is less corporate sponsorship in the United States when someone might otherwise think the opposite. Perhaps the sports teams themselves are such brands here that it simply has made more sense to advertise their own name across their jerseys. It might have just been a business calculation that yielded the conclusion of advertising one’s own name in order to instill in fans what they are watching. In addition, it is likely the case that sports franchises in the United States have a generally higher level of financial stability than those in leagues where jersey advertisement is rampant. This affects how much outside corporate interest a league is willing to give in order to help the league, the teams, and the players stay afloat, while making what they perceive to be fair wages.

A real Issue?

So the question remains: would allowing for advertising on NBA jerseys damage the purity of the game? My answer may be somewhat cynical, but I believe it is appropriate. It may damage the spirit and purity of the game in some abstract sense, but the degree of damage doesn’t warrant disallowing these ads for those reasons. Also, the purity of the game, which might be hurt, has already been hurt so much by so many other corporate interests that one more small step in that direction surely won’t have devastating impacts on the NBA or the game of basketball. Think of all of the advertisements that already exist: the stadiums have sponsors, the floors have advertisements, the goals, banners around the arena, and even the seats will sometimes yield advertisements from various companies. Adding to all of this advertising by simply carrying it over onto the players themselves will not be too much different. If we were truly worried about the purity and integrity of the sport being damaged by all of this corporate interest, the time to act would have been long ago. We are far enough down this road that the purity of the game will not change with one more small step in advertising placement. Something as small as a patch on the shoulder of a player will not have any effect on the level of play in the NBA. It will be close to unnoticeable for the majority of the game. The real question may actually be if something like this would be worth the cost to a company wishing to advertise in this way (after all, these jersey advertisements will in truth bring in millions of dollars in revenue to the league, teams, and players), but that question is for a different day. Given how much corporate interest is already going into the NBA, wouldn’t this money be worth the slight addition of this already all-encompassing phenomenon? I think so, and Commissioner Silver does too, which is why he said that it is ‘inevitable,’ and believes it to happen in the next five years.

Author: Mitchell Kiefer