NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The NFL has given another inch on marketing deals between teams and advertisers, but it's promising it won't give a mile.
The Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans are among the NFL franchises that have publicly said they are exploring sponsorship deals that would put marketers' names and logos on team practice jerseys. The NFL quietly passed a rule in March that allows teams to pursue local sponsorship opportunities that give companies the chance to put 3 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch patches on the shoulders of practice jerseys.
The league also approved a second resolution permitting teams to use their marks and logos with their respective state lotteries.
While no agreements have been announced yet by any team pursuing a practice-jersey deal, the Washington Redskins became the first NFL team to cut a lottery deal: The Redskins and the Virginia Lottery on Monday announced a $20 scratch-off ticket featuring the team's logo.
"Teams previously had been able to accept general advertising from lotteries but never had the ability to co-mingle marks," said NFL VP-Communications Brian McCarthy. "Now the use of team name and logos is permitted on a scratch-off game provided it does not offer any betting scheme related to a sporting event. That's the distinction -- it has nothing to do with gambling on the outcome of a game."
New revenue streams
Mr. McCarthy said the chance to create new revenue streams was a driving force in the NFL's decision on the two matters. Individual franchises have struggled in this turbulent economy, and the league itself was forced to lay off 150 employees earlier this year.
"We've explored these categories in the past, and we became increasingly comfortable in using them," he said, adding that there are restrictions on teams regarding practice jerseys -- no deals with companies involved in tobacco, firearms or alcohol, including beer companies. However, teams can cut a deal with one company for the regular season and a different company for the postseason, if the team makes the playoffs.
While practice jerseys certainly don't hold the same cache as game jerseys, they are worn for a month or more every day during training camp each summer and at least four days a week at practice during the regular season, and receive media play from local TV and print news outlets that film and take photos at practice.
Bob Dorfman, exec VP-creative director of San Francisco-based Baker Street Partners, said a deal will net teams "in the low seven figures a year for practice jerseys, eight figures a year for game jerseys -- when it happens. I think sponsored game jerseys are inevitable in all pro sports leagues."
'Test of fan reaction'?
Mr. McCarthy said there is no chance of that happening in the NFL. "We've been approached by numerous companies looking for that opportunity," he said. "The NFL jersey is the most valuable real estate in sports, but we have no plans for that."
Still, at least one expert said this can be interpreted as a move toward logos on game jerseys.
"It is, at least, a test of fan reaction to it," said Bettina Cornwell, professor of marketing and sports management at the University of Michigan. "I'm sure [the league] is mulling over the future and how to make the most of the potential change. Times are tough, admittedly, and the search for new revenue streams is understandable. On the other hand, economic pressures may allow acceptable justification for introducing a practice that has been waiting in the wings for decades."
The National Basketball Association loosely lifted that lid last week when NBA Commissioner David Stern signed off on allowing teams in the Women's National Basketball Association to put sponsor names on the front of team jerseys.