NBA's Silver: Ads on Player Jerseys Are 'Inevitable'

Commish Expects Other Major Pro Leagues in U.S. to Follow

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DANA POINT, Calif.-- New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said placing corporate logos on player jerseys is "inevitable" -- and will probably happen within the next five years.

"I think it's inevitable," said Mr. Silver at the 2014 IMG World Congress of Sports presented by SportsBusiness Daily/Journal.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

Corporate logos on players jerseys are commonplace in the British Premier League and throughout international soccer, noted Mr. Silver. With U.S. TV coverage of these leagues already bringing the sight of these jerseys into American living rooms, ads on players jerseys are an idea whose time has come, he said.

"It just creates that much more of an opportunity for our marketing partners to get that much closer to our fans and to our players. It gives us an opportunity just to have deeper integration when it comes to those forms of sponsorship. ... Increasingly as we see Champion's League and English Premier League televised in the U.S., I think it's going to become more acceptable and more commonplace for our fans as well."

When asked if the switch would come within five years, Mr. Silver answered "definitely." After a moment's thought, he amended that to: "Most likely."

After his presentation, Mr. Silver told Ad Age "almost all" of the NBA's corporate sponsors have expressed interest in slapping their corporate logos on player jerseys. "I think it's coming. It's inevitable. It's such as enormous opportunity for our sponsors to connect with us. I think the marketplace is asking for it." The league's corporate sponsors include: Nike, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Samsung, State Farm, Taco Bell, Diageo and Kumho Tire.

The NBA would be the first of the four major U.S. sports leagues (including the NFL, Major League Baseball and NHL) to break the taboo against selling corporate logos on the front of player jerseys. Currently, these leagues only carry logos of athletic companies such as Nike, the NFL's offical outfitter.

The NFL, however, was quick to shoot down the very idea that it would move to put sponsor logos on uniforms. "No, we're not. We are approached every year by companies but we are not considering it," said spokesman Brian McCarthy.

WNBA jerseys already carry sponsor logos.
WNBA jerseys already carry sponsor logos.

How much would the new ad space be worth? Back in 2011, Mr. Silver said it could be worth $100 million in new ad revenue to the NBA.

Many individual pro teams want ads on player jerseys as a way to create a new revenue stream during the economic recession. But leagues have long regarded it as taboo because they were afraid of being accused by fans and critics of commercialism run amok. When MLB announced a deal with Columbia Pictures to put logos for the movie "Spider-Man 2" on bases in 2004, for example, there was a public outcry. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig quickly abandoned the plan.

But within the last decade, the NBA's own WNBA began cutting deals with sponsors to put their corporate logos on the front of players jerseys. Ditto for Major League Soccer. NASCAR drivers and PGA Tour stars have long been covered in corporate logos.

Meanwhile, Abe Madkour, executive editor of SportsBusiness Daily, drew the biggest laugh when he asked Mr. Silver with a straight face if New York Knicks owner Jim Dolan will let new team president Phil Jackson run the club without interference.

"He says he will. I'm sure he will," said Mr. Silver.

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