Sports viewers are used to seeing advertisements in the form of advertisements or pasted on road signs. But in recent years, sponsorships have become intertwined with the NBA players themselves, following the athletes on the court.
This week, the Los Angeles Lakers revealed they had signed a five-year, $ 100 million deal with South Korean food company Bibigo to feature its logo on players’ shirts.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers announced a six-year deal with Crypto.com, a cryptocurrency buying and selling platform.
For decades, jersey sales have been a major source of income for sports franchises. Now, the uniforms serve as a sort of billboard – a premier form of real estate for companies looking to raise their profile.
The history of the patch: pioneering women
The NBA has approved a patch sponsorship program for the 2017-18 season, allowing teams to feature a client on the front left shoulder of a player’s jersey. The program, originally a three-year pilot project, has been extended indefinitely.
Sponsorship of corporate shirts had already been adopted by European football teams and the National Women’s Basketball Association. In 2009, the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury changed its own name to the name of a sponsor, LifeLock, an identity theft protection company, in a deal worth at least $ 1 million dollars a year.
The other major leagues let the WNBA serve as a test case, according to Nancy Lough, an education professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has expertise in sports marketing.
“In the case of the NBA, NHL, etc., they’ve been hesitant over the years, thinking that somehow it would diminish their brand or be seen as a sale,” said Lough.
But she said that perspective had changed dramatically – in part because of the amount of money these leagues would embezzle by ignoring the opportunity. In 2019, the NBA had generated more than $ 150 million from the patch program.
“With the NBA doing it, they’re just copying us… good for them,” said Penny Taylor, a now-retired WNBA player, in 2016.
How are the companies selected?
Many companies that have patch deals with NBA teams tend to be less established players, with several offering financial technology services.
“For brands entering new markets, jersey patches reach a large market of attentive consumers. You’ll notice that most patches aren’t from traditional sponsors, ”Kirk Wakefield, retail marketing professor at Baylor University, wrote in an email.
Data provider SponsorUnited said more NBA referrals came from financial technology and crypto companies as traditional advertisers, such as banks, cut their marketing spend.
Current sponsors for the patch include the Ibotta Cash Back app, website builder Squarespace, Crypto.com, and Vistaprint, an e-commerce company that makes customizable marketing products for small businesses.
“The NBA clubs senior partnership sales team solicits brands with interest – sometimes brands can contact teams or vice versa,” Wakefield explained. “The NBA and each team are actively seeking these partners. “
In Vistaprint’s case, the Boston Celtics had contacted the company, but talks were put on hold once the COVID-19 pandemic struck, according to Ricky Engelberg, the company’s chief marketing officer.
However, the two have teamed up for the Celtics’ Food for Heroes program, an initiative to support local restaurants and frontline workers.
“It allowed us to see what it would be like to actually partner with them on community impact,” Engelberg said.
Vistaprint ended up signing a four-year contract with the Celtics ahead of the 2020-21 season after previous sponsor General Electric chose not to renew their contract.
Lough said placing the brand’s promotions directly on the team’s uniforms was the most exposure available.
Engelberg compared this form of advertising with your typical 60-second spot: “If you go to ESPN.com, the Vistaprint logo is on the homepage because Jayson Tatum scored 50 points in the game. You’re playing NBA2K, and on the free throw line, the Vistaprint logo is there.
Moreover, these collaborations are not limited to the patch. Engelberg said the Celtics share the company’s values and his passion for small business. “I think that’s what everyone should try to look for in these partnerships,” he said.
Vistaprint dedicates field signage to small businesses at home games, and the partners have set up a million dollar program to distribute grants to black-owned businesses in New England.
After the COVID-19 hit, the NBA relied even more on jersey patch sales to combat the financial impact of the pandemic.
Other leagues, such as Major League Baseball, are exploring similar sponsorship programs, while the NHL has approved jersey announcements for the 2022-23 season.
It seems that all fear of “selling” has been appeased.