Every day team owners are asking their business operations executives, "Where’s my new revenue coming from?" There are no easy answers.
Will the four major North American sports leagues allow gambling on their games? It's doubtful, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is dribbling in that direction to see what the public thinks.
Will leagues embroider corporate names on their uniforms? The stitches are already being sewn.
At NBA All-Star Weekend this year, Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Contest participants wore jerseys bearing Sprite and Foot Locker logos, respectively.
And Silver believes there's "a tasteful way to have relatively small branding added to jerseys that would provide additional value to our sponsors and the league." He has said it is "inevitable" that the league will one day take after global sports and have sponsors' names on team jerseys.
There will be a day when we hear the announcer say: “You are looking live at Levi's Stadium and where the Microsoft National Football League is proud to present the Tesla Super Bowl between the Gillette Packers and the U.S. Steel Steelers. We’ll be right back with the exciting Nike Kickoff after this commercial break, brought to you by Wells Fargo.”
It may sound a bit extreme, but all you have to do is connect the dollar dots to see what’s already happening today. In America, Major League Soccer (MLS) is setting the standard, taking the shirt off their backs in exchange for putting corporate names on their chests. More on that later.
Meanwhile, the "big four" (NFL, MLB, NBA & NHL) are stitching together their own strategies on their way to full-fledged corporate branding on team uniforms.
Going into the 2009 season the NFL granted permission for its teams to have corporate partners on preseason training camp and in-season practice jerseys.
At this point, Major League Baseball doesn’t have any plans to allow corporate logos on their laundry.
The NBA allows sponsor logos on training camp jerseys and practice uniforms.
In March, Silver said advertising on uniforms -- common in European football -- was "inevitable" and would "most likely" happen within the next five years.
Teams in the NBA Development League, where the NBA often tries out rule changes before implementing them, are now allowed to sell their jerseys to corporate partners.
D-League teams are in the $100,000-$200,000 range for logos on laundry. The following teams have sponsors:
Westchester Knicks -- Chase Bank
Texas Legends -- Ah Chihuahua Mexico
Erie Bayhawks -- LECOM
Rio Grande Valley Vipers -- Lone Star Bank
Delaware 87ers -- Stubhub
Austin Spurs -- Texas Descon, contractor
OKC Blue -- Continental Resources
Fort Wayne -- Lutheran Healthnet
Grand Rapids -- Metro Health
Santa Cruz Warriors -- PayStand
Like the D-League, the WNBA green-lighted its teams to take jersey sponsorships several years ago during the regular season. Uniform sponsorships are in the $300,000-$800,000 range.
On a league level, Boost Mobile's overall WNBA jersey sponsorship is in the $500,000 range.
The following teams have sponsors:
Tulsa Shock -- Osage Casino
Connecticut Sun -- Mohegan Sun Casino
New York Liberty -- Foxwoods Casino
Phoenix Mercury -- Casino Arizona, Talking Stick
Indiana -- Finish Line
Minnesota Lynx -- Mayo Clinic
The NHL currently allows sponsorship on training camp and practice uniforms.
Major League Soccer is taking a page from soccer’s international tradition. The league has plowed new ground in North American sports marketing and all other American professional sports leagues are going to school on the MLS jersey deals.
The San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids are squads without a jersey sponsor. Others, with a jersey sponsor:
New York City FC -- Etihad Airways
Red Bulls -- Red Bull ($100 million, ownership of team)
Montreal -- Bank of Montreal
Houston -- BHP Billiton
LA Galaxy -- Herbalife (5 years /$20 million dollars)
Real Salt Lake -- Life Vantage
Toronto FC -- Bank of Montreal (4 years/$6 million)
Chivas USA -- Comex Group (4 years/8 million)
Seattle -- Xbox
DC United -- Leidos
Vancouver -- Bell
Portland -- Alaska Airlines
FC Dallas -- Advocare
Orlando City FC -- Orlando Health
Chicago Fire -- Quaker
Columbus -- Barbasol
New England Revolution -- United Healthcare
Philadelphia Union -- Bimbo
Sporting Kansas City -- Ivy Funds
INTERNATIONAL SOCCER TEAMS
Global soccer clubs have been using jersey (kit) sponsorship as a major source of revenue for years. For the top teams, sponsorship generates upwards of $20 million. Think about what will be coming when the big four US sports leagues open up the floodgate.
Some of the top jersey sponsorship deals:
Manchester United -- $45 million a year (Chevrolet)
Chelsea -- $40 million a year (Yokohama Tire)
FC Barcelona -- $25 million a year (Qatar Foundation)
Bayern Munich -- $20 million (Turk Telecom)
Liverpool -- $20 million a year (Standard Charter)
Manchester City -- $20 million a year (Etihad Airways)
NATIONAL SOCCER TEAMS
Nike and Adidas are kicking each other in the shins to sponsor the most prominent national teams in the world. Nike has Brazil, Portugal, Netherlands, France and the USA. Adidas has sewn up Argentina, Germany, Mexico and Spain. The Brazilian National soccer team has signed up with Nike for 10 years at a cool $200 million dollars. In addition to wearing Nike equipment and apparel, Brazil will play exhibitions (friendlies) each year against other Nike sponsored teams throughout the world.
WANT TO SPONSOR A LEAGUE?
After we see the corporatization of team jerseys, what’s next? We have already seen teams selling sponsorships of a particular season.
Within the next decade we will see the naming of divisions, conferences, All-Star games, playoffs and championships in big four US sports.
Will colleges be far behind?
One question remains: Will a league eventually take a multi-billion dollar check to name itself for a corporate partner?
Stay tuned and think twice before you invest too much money in a new team jersey sporting a sponsor that paid beaucoup bucks.