When the NBA All-Star game tips off on Valentine's Day, Kia's logo will appear closer to the heart of players than perhaps any in-game ad in pro basketball history -- right around the upper left chest, to be exact.
The league confirmed the placement of a 3.25-inch-by-1.6 inch Kia patch on All-Star jerseys last week, making the NBA the first of America's big four sports leagues to allow on-jersey ads. Kia's deal does not extend to regular season games, but it seems likely that the league will eventually go in that direction.
Emilio Collins, the NBA's executive VP for global marketing partnerships, said in a statement to Ad Age that "we have been studying the overall proposition of jersey sponsorship for several years now, and it is something that we believe is likely inevitable. We continue to discuss this topic with our owners and other relevant stakeholders, but we do not have any other news to share at this point."
He added: "For now, we see a tremendous opportunity to work more closely with Kia -- a longtime and important partner of both the NBA and Turner -- to take a more integrated position with the league at one of our biggest events of the year, the NBA All-Star Game."
The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The NBA is "going to keep trying and trying and trying until they get it right," said Laren Ukman, global head of consulting for WPP-owned ESP Properties, which advises rightsholders in the sports and entertainment industries, including leagues, events, teams, publishers and venues.
Ms. Ukman pointed to increased exposure in the U.S. of European soccer, whose team jerseys are covered with brand names. That has desensitized U.S. viewers, she said. "It all just seems normalized at this point," she said. "From a fan perspective, it still might not be lovely but I think it's more acceptable."
Brands increasingly want to be "part of the content" and "there's nothing more prevalent in terms of content than the actual players in a sporting event," said David Caruso, chief operations officer for United Entertainment Group, a global marketing agency specializing in entertainment and sports.
For Kia, the deal was a no-brainer, according to a top executive. "All eyes are on the players during the game. That means all eyes are going to be seeing Kia constantly during the game," Tim Chaney, VP of marketing communications for Kia Motors America, said in an interview. "It just literally gets us closer to the game. How much closer can you be than on the chest of the players?"
The deal -- which includes the 2016 and 2017 All-Star games -- was struck by Kia during its upfront media negotiations with Turner, Mr. Chaney said. Kia is an official NBA sponsor and regularly advertises during games on Turner's TNT, including sponsoring the "Inside the NBA" post-game studio show. Turner secured the rights to sell jersey ads from the NBA as part of negotiations that wrapped up last year and extended Turner's NBA broadcast rights through the 2025-26 season.
Kia has exclusive rights to the patch sponsorship for 2016 and 2017, meaning it will be the only non-apparel brand on the All-Star jerseys. Adidas will also have its logo on the jersey. Nike takes over as the NBA's uniform provider in the 2017-18 season. "Beyond the 2017 game, we will sell one jersey sponsorship per year for the All-Star Game jersey only," said a Turner spokeswoman.
Mr. Chaney did not disclose how much the jersey sponsorship was worth, only saying it was "wrapped up in a much bigger, broader package during the upfront."
Kia began pursuing the deal as soon as the automaker caught wind of the possibility that jersey ads might be part of the NBA-Turner deal. "We quickly raised our hand and it was an easy decision for us," Mr. Chaney said.
Asked if he was concerned about fan backlash, he said "it could happen, but we weren't and aren't concerned about it at all. We want to be part of the conversation and we think something like this puts us in the conversation."
He added: "NBA fans are progressive, just like the league. They are intelligent. They are passionate." And if that passion results "in a little bit of a conversation and debate about this -- that's OK," he said.