If you view the NFL and its teams as a greedy business, you’d have a pretty good point. Teams raise ticket prices even after losing seasons. They put city councils in chokeholds for tax dollars to renovate existing stadiums or make new ones entirely. The league pays its commissioner more than $30 million a year while fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying retired players. It wishes to move the combine from perfectly-good and entirely-convenient Indianapolis to Los Angeles for more attention and thus more money.
But there’s one resource the NFL has not tapped. By an extremely conservative measure, jersey advertisement patches could net the league’s teams and players $200 million annually in added revenue. And the NFL would hardly be a pioneer in this space.
The NBA implemented a jersey patch program in 2017 that allowed teams to negotiate individual deals with their own sponsors. The league has seen such success with this program, originally a three-year pilot, that it was extended indefinitely at the last owners meeting, says Amy Brooks, the NBA’s president of team marketing and business operations and chief innovation officer. Advertisements essentially are the jerseys in MLS, international soccer and the WNBA. Motorsports turn cars and drivers into high-speed advertisements and golfers are walking ads as well. MLB has dipped its toe in the water with ads on sleeves and helmets in its games in Japan and Mexico since the early 2000s.
Ten years ago, the NFL began adding sponsorship patches to practice jerseys. At the time, it was thought by some that the game-jersey patch was imminent. But a decade later, it doesn’t seem like the most profitable league in American sports is any closer to patchwork.
“Never say never, but there are no current plans to pursue or explore,” a league spokesman told The MMQB earlier this week.
There are myriad unanswered questions and logistics to sort through, but one team executive figures “any resistance to it today would be much less than it was 15, 20 years ago.”
A seemingly natural time for the NFL to introduce a jersey patch program would be during the next round of collective bargaining negotiations. The current CBA ends following the 2020 season and the discussions are expected to be contentious.
“It’s all about trying to find new revenue streams, so that when you do a new contract you can distribute new income and everyone’s happy,” said Dr. Bill Sutton, director of the University of South Florida’s sport and entertainment program. “Owners and players are happy.
“Now that the NBA threw the rock in the water and made it ripple, now the other leagues are looking at it, saying look what the NBA did and it didn’t seem to do any damage or any reciprocal harm from this. Maybe we should get our feet wet.”
As of March, when the Oklahoma City Thunder teamed with Love’s Travel Shops, all 30 NBA teams now have a patch sponsor. Here are some of the NBA’s parameters: The patches must be no larger than 2.5-by-2.5 inches. Alcohol, tobacco, gambling, political ads and competitors of Nike (which holds the jersey rights) are prohibited, and teams negotiate their own deals, which reportedly range from $5 million to $20 million per year.
“Two-thirds of these 30 partners are global brands, and two-thirds of these partners were also brand new in spending with the NBA,” Brooks says. “And in addition, the reasons these companies are partnering with our teams is really diverse. We have entrenched, iconic brands looking to get younger and connect with a more diverse audience. We have upstart brands looking to build their image. We have global brands looking to connect with the NBA. That’s been really exciting because there are different ways we can deliver value.”
Some of those household names include General Electric, Harley-Davidson and Disney. The lesser-known ones include Rakuten, a Japanese electronics company whose Warriors deal means plenty of airtime for their logo on nationally televised games. The Clippers even have a deal with the dating app Bumble.