For some teams in leagues that have allowed advertising—such as the NHL, where ads on helmets began appearing in 2020—brands aren’t always represented. In a recent game between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, neither team skated with a sponsor logo, Lukas noted. Several NHL teams have more than one helmet sponsor.
A representative for MLB said details of its program—the size and placement of patches, along with the possibility they would appear on helmets and not jerseys—were still in the planning stages. Among the issues likely to be occupying the league’s attention would be limits on the kind of brands that would be welcome to advertise. The MLB Players Association did not respond to a request for comment.
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Online sportsbooks—which today dominate sports broadcasts—are currently prohibited from advertising on NBA jerseys. However, the NHL, whose teams will begin placing ads on team sweaters beginning next season, is another story. The first team to announce a deal, the Washington Capitals, will carry the Caesar’s Sportsbook logo. Terms of that deal were not disclosed.
MLB's team-based sponsorship deals would appear to be destined only to the regular season, said Tony Ponturo, a former Anheuser Busch sports marketing executive who today is a sports marketing consultant. He said brands could potentially come into conflict with official sponsors on nationally broadcast playoff games—and at other times, with players who maintain separate marketing deals with brands. Budweiser for example at one time owned branding for the courtside scorer’s table at most NBA arenas, but its marks were removed in deference to Miller Lite’s rights as an official league sponsor once the postseason began. (Bud owner Anheuser-Busch InBev is now the official MLB sponsor.)
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Teams will also need to keep an eye on reputational issues that can arise in sports that are not likely in other environments. “I’ve always felt if I put a Budweiser patch on the Red Sox and they came to New York, then I would have the home fans saying they won’t drink Budweiser," Ponturo said. "If you’re upsetting 15% to 20% of the fans because they don’t approve of the sponsor, you have to ask whether it’s all worth it.”
MLB has previously included ads on its batting helmets and/or uniforms only in select games played outside of the U.S., like series held in London, Tokyo and Mexico City. And umpires began wearing patches in the middle of last season, sponsored by the cryptocurrency trading company FTX.
“Those experiments resulted in strong visibility of the patch on broadcasts, and no real complaints from the teams, so [they were] successful overall,” Balvanz said.
Balvanz estimated that baseball teams could realize new revenue of “anywhere between seven and eight figures,” depending on the team, market, competition for the patch, and other details of the deal.