SBD/September 25, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Critics Call Out NBA For Nickname Jerseys, Say It's Just Another Way To Sell Merchandise

Some analysts are surprised the Heat would wear the nickname jerseys
The NBA’s plan to have the Heat and Nets play at least one game this coming season with player nicknames on the back of their jerseys is a “straight money grab,” according to ESPN’s Dan Le Batard. He said, “All that's in play here … is that they want to sell more Heat jerseys. This is all about commerce, it’s not about nicknames. When you put the nicknames on the jerseys, what do you have? More jerseys to sell” ("Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 9/24). ESPN’s Keith Olbermann asked, "What do you do when you run out of alternate jerseys to sell? What do you do when you run out of new throwback jerseys to sell? What do you do when you run out of new retro jerseys to sell, new Sunday jerseys, new anniversary jerseys, new championship jerseys, new special jerseys? Well, naturally, you start selling jerseys that are different not on the front, but on the back." He asked ESPN.com’s Paul Lukas, "Was there some pressing call from players or fans for nicknames on the back of uniforms? This doesn't seem like it was organic to me." Lukas, who also maintains Uni-Watch.com, said most people “were blindsided" by the news. He said, "It seems like they just need one more way to sell a jersey." Lukas: "The culture of the NBA for a generation now really has increasingly pushed the individual over the team, and that's really what this is part of" (“Olbermann,” ESPN2, 9/24). The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan said he "loves" the nickname jerseys because it "maintains the fiction that it's really not just a business, that they really love to play this game and they'd play for nothing." However, he ended his statement by giving a wink to the camera ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/24).

BLATANT PANDERING OR A FINE IDEA? NBA.com's Steve Aschburner called the nickname jerseys a "bad idea," as it is "blatant pandering for replica jersey sales." Aschburner: "Putting them on the backs of jerseys? That's best left for beer softball leagues and frat-boy reunions." NBA.com's Jeff Caplan said, "Sounds like a publicity gimmick for a league that doesn't need publicity gimmicks." NBA.com's Sekou Smith: "As a one-game gimmick, this is fine. ... But seeing guys with 'Pookie' or 'Shawty Red' (or other foolishness like that) on the backs of jerseys over the course of an entire NBA season is a premise that I simply refuse to embrace." NBA.com's John Schuhmann: "I like it as something that each team does once or twice per season. It's a way for fans to more closely identify with guys that are already the most visible athletes in the four major sports." NBA.com's Lang Whitaker: "As a kid who would have given all the money I had to get an Atlanta Hawks number 21 jersey that said HUMAN HIGHLIGHT FILM on the back, I totally get the appeal" (NBA.com, 9/25).

ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL, NOT THE TEAM: In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman writes he is "surprised that a Pat Riley team would indulge in such a look-at-me promotion." Any turn toward "self-promotion seems out of place, not exactly part of the 'Heat culture.'" Let the "tankers have the nicknames and let the contenders instead put their focus on the ultimate prize" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 9/25). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the NBA "has just gotten away from the image of being self-indulgent and selfish and really the NBA now wants to go out there and put these nicknames" on the jerseys. Wilbon: "This is too AAU for me" ("PTI," ESPN, 9/24). But in West Palm Beach, Greg Stoda writes the nickname jerseys are a "no-harm, no-foul deal." Advertising logos on uniforms "are coming soon enough ... so enjoy the nicknames before the business of business intrudes." Nicknames would "beat those hideous long-sleeved jerseys by any tailor’s longest tape measure" (PALM BEACH POST, 9/25).

NOTHING NEW HERE: ESPN.com's Lukas noted several NBA and ABA players, including HOFers Pete Maravich and Elvin Hayes, "wore nicknames on their backs in the 1970s." MLB players "have worn nicknames, too," including Tony Conigliaro, Ken Harrelson, Bert Campaneris, Catfish Hunter and "most of" the '76 Braves (ESPN.com, 9/24).
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