Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks found that out when the second-year player shaved the logo of his athletic sponsor, Adidas, into his high-top fade haircut before a game last Friday. It didn't matter that Adidas is the league's official outfitter. The NBA reminded the Knicks it was a no-no. Mr. Shumpert shaved it off -- and publicly apologized on Twitter.
"sry @nba didn't realize there were branding issues wit da logo #iPUToN," Mr. Shumpert wrote in a message on Twitter and Instagram, accompanied by a photo of his haircut -- before and after the league intervened.
The loss of Mr. Shumpert's haircut cost Adidas an estimated $1.2 million in brand exposure, a sports marketing expert told BloombergBusinessweek.
The NBA also prohibits players from displaying tattoos of sponsors. The bottom line: pro leagues oppose letting their players turn into walking billboards -- unless the league itself is selling the ad space and making the money. Leagues also don't want individual players' ad messages conflicting with the official, league-wide sponsors.
The NBA declined to comment on Mr. Shumpert, but the league sends each club an Operating Manual before the beginning of every season noting that players are not allowed to display promotional names, marks or logos on their "person" during games.
Then again, all that could finally change soon. Pro soccer clubs in Europe have long displayed corporate logos on the front of player jerseys. The WNBA approved the practice in 2009. And the recent economic slowdown in the U.S. has encouraged the NBA to rethink its position too.
Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who will succeed Commissioner David Stern next February, said last summer that the NBC could beging selling sponsorship space on the front of player jerseys in time for the 2013-14 season. "Our view is we think on an aggregate basis, league wide, our 30 teams could generate in total $100 million by selling that patch on jerseys, per season," Mr. Silver said.
Last September, owners put off further discussions on the idea, but nobody thinks the plan is dead. "As a personal matter, I am not in favor of it, but I'm not standing in the way of it.," Mr. Stern said last October. "If my board wants to do it, we'll do it. Of all the leagues in the world, the NBA is the only one that has only its own logo on it. "
The topic could come up again as soon as the NBA's next Board of Governors meeting, scheduled to take place on April 18 to April 19. (The NBA declined to comment on that prospect.) If and when officially-sanctioned sponsor logos come to NBA jerseys, don't be surprised to see other leagues such as the NHL and MLB follow.
The NFL, the nation's richest, most popular sports league, would be the last to join the party -- if it ever does. Eric Grubman of the NFL told attendees at the 2013 IMG World Congress of Sports last week that jersey ads are not on the league's radar screen for the foreseeable future.