Back in April, the NBA announced it would begin putting sponsorship logos on player uniforms in the 2017-18 season, a move that could generate at least $100 million per year. Commonplace in all sports around the world, monetizing uniforms is a move major American sports leagues like the NFL, NHL, and Major league Baseball have yet to make.
The revenue numbers might have team owners salivating, but the prospect of adding logos has some fans worried their hoops heroes will look more like German hockey players. More realistically, the NBA is imagining a future in which fans will accept (and buy) jerseys with brand logos, just as world soccer fans still scramble for the newest kits of Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Barcelona.
European soccer clubs have practically made selling uniform space into a capitalist art form—they sell the front of the shirt rights, they sell the back of the shirt rights, they sell shirt rights for different tournaments, they sell the warm-up shirt rights. Everything is for sale. They must look at the real estate on NBA shirts and wonder, 'Why are the numbers so big on the front?'
In anticipation of the NBA's first foray into brands on player uniforms, I asked some of the people brands will be talking to about their potential jersey sponsorship strategy, and asked them to speculate on how marketers may be approaching this new sports sponsorship opportunity. Creative directors, art directors, and executives from six different ad agencies weighed in on everything from placement to specific brand/team partnerships that would make sense.
Some are realistic, some are ambitious, and some are just batsh*t brand crazy. Check them out in the slide show above.
Golden State Warriors and Twitter: "The best partnerships are going to come from an idea that helps all parties involved and feels smart. So for Twitter, we’ll put players’ Twitter handles on their jerseys instead of their last name—something that will make Twitter, the Warriors, and the players happy."
Chicago Bulls and McDonald's: "Americans don’t agree on much, but there’s one thing we can all agree on: McDonald’s fries are delicious. To remind people how much they miss them we will create a jersey with a pocket made of their iconic fry container and more ventilation for a completely new look."
Atlanta Hawks and Brawny: "For the Hawks, we’ll work with Atlanta’s own Georgia-Pacific—owners of Brawny—to create a jersey featuring the iconic red and black plaid pattern of the Brawny Man."
Atlanta Hawks and United Airlines: "We’ll work with United Airlines and the Atlanta Hawks—both know a little about flight—to re-imagine their uniforms. We’ll use the simple and familiar flight pattern motif as a design element in the fabric and the Hawks logo and uniform number will serve as the 'hub.'"
"Creating logos for NBA jerseys comes with a lot of pressure. You have to strike the right balance between staying on brand while not annoying the millions of basketball fans that will be ready to pick your work apart the second it walks onto the court. The solution is to use icons that are quickly recognizable yet add a fun component to the game."
"For brands like McDonald's and Starbucks, we wanted to branch out from using their typical logo and put the focus back onto their most iconic items. Who can resist the nostalgic image of the yellow fries or the classic coffee cup? They bring an unmistakable symbol to the jersey, a tactic that will keep the NBA happy while offering something that fans can get excited about."
"There’s a reason we’re attracted to—and turned off by—brands. Branding creates value and loyalty when we feel it shares and reflects our core beliefs. Otherwise, it’s just crass corporatism. So, as the NBA dips its collective toes in the world of co-branding, remember, fans don’t like crass corporatism. Luckily, we’re in the business of keeping everyone happy, so here’s our $0.02 on well-aligned co-branding."
Boston Celtics and Dunkin’ Donuts: "Pride. To Bostonians, it’s what separates them. It’s what unites them. It’s also what makes them care more about triple doubles than triple ventis. Whether it’s their sports teams or their breakfast, Boston fans are rabidly loyal to brands steeped in tradition. Born and bred in Massachusetts, the Celtics and Dunks go together like coffee and donuts."
Atlanta Hawks and Delta Airlines: "Above the sky or above the rim, these two Atlanta-based franchises know a little something about pushing the envelope. The Hawks have seen serious lift-off connecting with millennials through engaging game-day experiences, while Delta continues to carry more passengers annually than any other airline in the world. Plus, the Delta widget fits perfectly into the Hawks’ design. Together, there’s no telling how high they’ll fly."
McDonald’s and LA Clippers: "As McDonald’s shifts away from its traditional fast food menu, the brand can only benefit from reaching a broader, healthier audience. So it only made sense to create something that represents McDonald’s future and marry it with the NBA style and aesthetic. We mirrored the famous NBA logo and created a more athletic version of Ronald McDonald to make it clear that you can "Be Like Mike" (or Steph) if you eat McDonald’s."
Logo Fantasy Leagues: "Let's have different brand items or icons represented on different players' jerseys, and turn it into a 'fantasy' game, in which people can draft their 'team' based on these different logos. For instance, let's say I draft the McDonald's Hamburger, and my friend drafts McDonald's fries—if the player with the McDonald's hamburger logo scores the most points, I win a coupon for a hamburger on my next visit."
United Way: "A jersey is a personal object, to both the players and the fans who wear it. Why not give that space to some of the fans who'd appreciate it most? Each player represents a local individual child 'sponsored' by the United Way. When that particular player is the leading scorer, a matching donation is made to that particular child's name. For example, if Kari-Anthony Towns led the team with 27 points, $270 would be given from the Wolves to The United Way in the name of that particular local child."
American Express: Let's spread the local love and have teams sponsor businesses, not the other way around. In partnership with American Express, each NBA player 'promotes' a small business in their market by donning its logo on Small Business Saturday. It's a small gesture that will go a long way on such an important shopping day."