The evolution of professional sports into a marketable industry is not a new phenomenon. With leagues, teams, and athletes drawing in billions of dollars in revenue each year, more Americans consume and spend more on sports than ever in history. According to the National Retail Federation, the Super Bowl alone can draw over $15 billion in revenue, making it one of the most expensive televised events of the year, particularly for the brands that advertise during a game.
Yet, while the venues, arenas, broadcasts, and teams have often been the most powerful vehicles for brand name sponsorships, the athletes’ uniforms have remained relatively untouched. In many ways, the uniform is the most recognizable mark for an athlete, and as a spectator, the item we are most likely to buy or notice. Sure, we are bombarded with subtle and not-so-subtle advertising throughout a sporting event, but traditionalists will argue that keeping corporate brands off the uniforms themselves has kept a purity to the game.
That trend, however, appears to be changing, especially for the four major North American sports.
Last year, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that for the first time in the league’s history players will display corporate logos on their uniforms during the 2017-2018 season. This effort, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, helps the league find “innovative ways the NBA can remain competitive in a global marketplace,” and the additional investment will help grow the game in both the United States and abroad.
Basketball is not alone. It has even been rumored that the recent Adidas re-design of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) uniforms was made with the intention of eventually placing logos on the front of teams’ jerseys.
Advertisements send powerful messages to consumers, as companies are willing to pay-out large checks to position themselves in a prime viewing location for a fan-base or audience. In many ways, consumers have become familiar with this idea, as NASCAR jumpsuits or professional golfers frequently sport corporate logos throughout an event or tournament. In European soccer leagues, athlete’s jerseys are covered with corporate branding, making the logo almost a part of the team’s identity.
The willingness of a company to place a logo on a jersey shows a desire to position themselves above their competition in the marketplace. They grab a viewer or spectator’s attention, and data suggests that these well-placed ads can significantly increase a company’s bottom line.
With this reality, it may not be in the so-distant future that all major professional sports jerseys are branded with corporate logos. Companies have identified professional sports marketing as a way to grow and a way to increase their market share. The high revenues generated by professional sports only create more avenues for additional corporate branding as leagues continue break through to consumers and broaden their reach.