Using carefully couched language like "we have no current intentions" and "it is unlikely we would move in that direction," the leagues signaled that they might do so later-lending credence to National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern's widely-quoted statement last week that it was an eventuality "but at a price that recognizes that value."
And who could blame them? Logos on uniforms can potentially rake in tens of millions each year for big-market teams with a strong following. The New York Yankees, for example, could score as much as $10 million for a three-by-three patch on their pinstripes for a single advertiser in a single season, sports marketing executives estimate.
The prospect has marketers salivating. "Man, you're talking prime real estate there to have a logo on a uniform," said Andy Allman, senior manager-sports marketing at Southwest Airlines, which has deals with the NBA and the National Hockey League. "It's something we'd have to take a look at."
But the idea also creates numerous questions. Would the implementation be done by the leagues or would individual franchises cut their own deals? And while the Yankees may draw big bucks, in the big-market vs. small-market world of sports a team like the Kansas City Royals would be lucky to fetch seven figures.
"Teams still scream that franchises like the Yankees and [Atlanta] Braves and [Chicago] Cubs can command more local TV rights money because of their market size," said David Carter, president of Sports Business Group, Los Angeles. "The leagues will have to be the gatekeeper on something like this."
Then there's the very real issue of conflicts.
"It would be harder for the teams to do it because of the corporate sponsorships already in place at the league level," said Steve Rosner, president of Rutherford, N.J.-based sports consultancy 16W Marketing. "It would be a challenge not to have a conflict and there's no way, for instance, that Major League Baseball would let a team cut a deal with Visa when MasterCard is the league's corporate financial partner."
And what of the players, many of whom have signed individual endorsement deals with a variety of marketers in a variety of categories?
"There are player rights, team rights, league rights, facility rights and media rights here as well," said Phil de Picciotto, president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' sports marketing arm Octagon. "And there is an ongoing and evolving battleground as to the gray areas between those rights."
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Team: Washington Redskins
Forbes franchise valuation: $1.1 billion
Possible sponsor worth: $4 million annually
NFL official comment: "It is unlikely we would move in that direction."
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Team: New York Yankees
Forbes franchise valuation: $950 million
Possible sponsor worth: $10 million annually
MLB official comment: "We have no current intentions to include corporate branding on our game uniforms."
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Forbes franchise valuation: $447 million
Possible sponsor worth: $5 million annually
NBA official comment: "The league is not actively pursuing advertiser logos."
NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
Team: New York Rangers
Forbes franchise valuation: $282 million
Possible sponsor worth: $1 million annually
NHL official comment: "It’s not something we are considering."