WNBA marketers look to sell ad space on team uniforms

Call it the year of selling dangerously.

As corporate marketing budgets have tightened, more sports sponsorship inventory once considered off limits is now on the sales block. We’ve seen liquor marketers find new comfort with the NBA, and likely the NFL, and we’re assuming the virtual signage being rolled out by MSG Network for the Stanley Cup playoffs will quickly become de rigueur.

Now we hear the WNBA is shopping a deal (or deals) under which corporate logos would be sold on the league’s game uniforms. The WNBA has not sold such a deal yet, and, thus far, the effort is emanating from league marketers, who are trying to fashion an arrangement under which uniform advertising on a minimum of two or three teams would be included.

McDonald’s had its logo on
WNBA jerseys for the first
week of the 2008 season.

Other U.S. leagues selling uniform advertising have either given local teams the rights to sell their own jersey billboards, a la MLS, or adopted a hybrid approach, like the Arena Football League, under which the league and its teams sold separate uniform advertising.

With budgets expected to be compressed for at least the rest of 2009, the biggest question is whether the WNBA’s willingness to sell uniform space is indicative of a similar and impending change of heart from bigger U.S. sports properties.

“Now is the right time for leagues to sell things they’ve never sold before,” said former NHL and WNBA marketer Steve Flatow, now senior vice president of business development for NYC & Co., the city’s tourism marketing group. “Of the big leagues, no one wants to be the first one to do it. When one of them does cross the line, it will go from none to all of them very quickly. They all recognize the value, and they see the prices European soccer teams get for shirt sponsorships.”

If completed, this wouldn’t be the first time the WNBA sold branding space well in excess of the usual Western standards for pro team sports. As presenting sponsor of Tip-off Week, McDonald’s splashed its golden arches trademark across the front of every WNBA jersey during the first week of the 2008 season. In recent years, Discover Financial Services has purchased logo space on WNBA courts and uniforms.

Of course, whenever we’re asked about uniform signage in the tradition of soccer, we tell those inquiring that it’s already been on NFL, MLB and NHL unis for years, in the form of footwear company logos, which somehow seem more endemic than the marks of Coke or McDonald’s. Still, whether it’s a quick-service restaurant or a sneaker brand, TV exposure is the end game, so we’re really not wondering if ads will eventually appear on NFL uniforms. We’re more curious about how soon pro jerseys will carry rotational signs.

 TEXAS TRIUMPH: Premier Partnerships has won an agency shootout to sell sponsorships for the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee. Former FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park executive John Alper, vice president of Premier’s central region, will head the effort, which will include building, pricing and selling host committee sponsorship inventory.

“Given the size of the task, we felt we could do it more quickly with an outside agency,” said Bill Lively, host committee president and CEO. “Premier has a good track record of valuing assets, building inventory and selling it.”

Lively said the committee hopes to sell 15 top-level million-dollar sponsorships, with Premier assigned to sell $5 million to $6 million in lower-tier sponsorships, likely priced at $250,000 to $500,000 each. Those will be in the market in about 45 days. As for the selling environment, even for a proposition as unique as the Super Bowl?

“There’s a lot of [corporate] headquarters here, and we are educating them on the value and scarcity of Super Bowl tickets,” Lively said. “There’s also the value of being the first Super Bowl here, and we are giving sponsors the better part of two years to pay off these things. Overall, we’ll be judged on our ability to allow sponsors to touch the game in a variety of ways outside the stadium. That’s our biggest challenge.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at

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