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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Marketing: The Quick Pivot On Jersey Ads

As the year concludes, we can’t help but ponder what a different place we’re in now compared to before March 11. We’ve heard for years about organizations with supposed “cultures of innovation.” Being forced to innovate is altogether different. Our relationships and resilience have been tested as never before. Hoping yours all proved their durability.

Words Of Wisdom

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.” -- Mark Twain

Jersey Ads Sprouting Up (With One Big Exception)

We’ve been pondering and writing about the potential for American stick-and-ball properties to follow their European counterparts with non-apparel jersey advertising for decades, and always saw it as inevitable. But we absolutely never considered that it would sprout across nearly every top-tier league simultaneously.

It’s another trend established before March, but now fueled by the pandemic, empty sports venues and the frantic need at properties for new revenue. Accordingly, all the big stick-and-ball leagues this side of the NFL are on a path to uniform branding.

The NBA is in its second round of jersey patch ads and is now allowing considerably larger practice jersey ads. MLB, as reported here, is on to sleeve patches, helmet ad decals or both. Sources tell us that jersey ads outside of those from “sweater” maker Adidas are such a disputatious issue within NHL circles that the league is well on its way to helmet ads. Given the potential size of those ads, we’d question their value. Still, Navigate estimates those helmet ads to be worth $2.5 million per team annually.  

“Kit” branding is customary within soccer, but MLS added another ad position on jersey sleeves during this past season. No word of activity from the NFL here, but we would expect the issue to be addressed within their upcoming media-rights negotiations. The salient point here is that while the NBA exceeded expectations with a patch that’s the size of standard Post-it, within this upcoming season or next most every league will be cut from the same cloth: There will be in excess of 100 opportunities to buy ads on uniforms.  

Could we file a "material objection" here, judge? The unwavering specifics of supply and demand inevitably trump the appeal of novelty, don’t they? “There will be diminishing returns there,” said longtime Bank of America Senior VP/Sponsorship Marketing Charles Greenstein. "Still, any company entering a new market or geography can build awareness quickly with that. And when you put your logo on a player, it humanizes the brand. That’s an additional emotional element and value there. But it also means the question of how to break through is getting more difficult."


The NBA will be allowing larger practice jersey sponsor patches this season

Betting, CBD Categories Eye Opportunity

The factor that will most influence jersey ad sales will be which categories are allowed in. Everybody in sponsorship knows legalized bookmaking is the largest emerging category, but which stick-and-ball league is willing to risk the slings and arrows of putting a tout service on its uniforms? In England and other European countries, it’s become routine across soccer; some countries have banned the practice altogether. Does that sound like a good bet for an American sports property?

Another category which would buy up uniform space as soon as it’s offered is the legal and developing CBD market. That would come with unique complexities. "CBDs have been big business here for a long time but there’s been pushback," said Manny Rodriguez, the Chief Marketing, Experience & Customer Officer at UC Health in Colorado, where marijuana and CBDs have been legal and commonplace for some time. “Other partners have said 'if they’re in, I’m out.'"

Premier Partnerships CEO Randy Bernstein was one of the first to sell uniform branding in America, when he was CMO at MLS from 1995-99. “I’m wondering two things," he said. “Does it put the market into a death spiral or generate new interest? And what is the NFL doing, if anything?"

Nick Kelly Calls New Role "Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity"

Anheuser-Busch InBev U.S. sports chief Nick Kelly surely enjoyed managing the brewer’s extensive sports sponsorship portfolio. Still, he told us that when conversations started with Tepper Sports & Entertainment two months ago about the president’s job at the nascent Charlotte FC MLS team, it was too extraordinary an opportunity to pass up. A-B InBev’s 13 MLS team sponsorships also meant Kelly was familiar with MLS. Perhaps not coincidentally, A-B InBev products have the pour at Bank of America Stadium, home to Charlotte FC and the NFL's Panthers. 

Len Perna’s Turnkey Search placed the position.   

“Building a franchise from the ground up is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anybody in any industry, let alone sports,” said Kelly, who’ll make the challenging shift from buy to sell side in his new role, officially starting Feb. 1. “I like the fact that every day counts, but at the same time we’ve got 15 months to get it up and running. ... That was exciting, and so was Mr. Tepper’s vision for Tepper Sports and Entertainment.”
Kelly will handle team P&L and all other “off-the-pitch” responsibilities for Charlotte FC. He will have around 80 team employees beneath him, and he’ll report to Tepper Sports & Entertainment President Tom Glick. “Nick understands fans, business, brands, and how to lead and manage people, so we’re happy to get him here,” Glick said.     

CAA Sports Looks To Grow Professional Fighters League

We’re not sure if it's solely because Endeavor’s 160/90 owns and markets the larger and more established UFC, but rival agency CAA has recently (and quietly) taken on sales for the upstart Professional Fighters League.

Given that CAA Sports generally sells from the top shelf, that should add legitimacy to PFL, in what isn’t a small assignment. CAA will attempt to sell title sponsorship for the PFL championship, along with various branded elements within the PFL cage and locker rooms, with overseas destination sponsorships for the PFL.

The league missed this year’s season due to the pandemic but plans to return within a bubble in Las Vegas, where it will hold its 2021 season at either Caesars Palace or the Rio, starting April 23. Currently, that season is envisioned without fans, but that could change as the pandemic ebbs.

PFL CEO Peter Murray said the league is looking hard at selling kit/apparel rights for the league, along with wireless, auto, men’s grooming and various beverage categories, as well as CBDs, which more than 60 of its fighters are already using. CAA’s Sports Licensing unit has been handling PFL licensing since around June.

Speed Reads

  • John Lombardo and I reported in SBJ this week on the NBA tipping off its season with a plethora of new in-arena ad inventory as teams look to replace lost ticketing and sponsorship dollars. To drive new revenue, many NBA teams will follow the NFL and MLB with tarps bearing sponsor logos across lower bowl seating areas. Teams will control the tarp signage as local inventory, but the league will control it for national broadcasts and will not put ads on the tarps. 
  • My colleague Adam Stern reports that 23XI Racing, the new NASCAR team fronted by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin with driver Bubba Wallace behind the wheel, has signed its first five sponsors in DoorDash, McDonald's, Columbia Sportswear, Dr Pepper and Root Insurance. The inclusion of Columbia as the team's official outfitter underscores how they won't necessarily align with Nike despite Jordan's involvement.
  • IdeaQuest Founder & President Eric Bechtel tells SBJ that his sponsorship/marketing agency is "building up and tearing down scenarios every week and being as creative and flexible as possible" ahead of another unconventional year. "It will be a buyer's market," he said.
  • Intuit announced that its TurboTax brand will advertise during Super Bowl LIV, marking its eighth consecutive year at the Big Game, per Adweek. Intuit last week "renewed and expanded its partnership" with the NFL through 2022.