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What effect will ads on NBA jerseys have?

Ads on Kobe's jersey

NBA owners have approved the inevitable– that is, ads on the seemingly precious real-estate that we call jerseys. For years, owners have debated the pros and cons of stitching logos for an anticipated additional 100mm to 150mm of revenue per year. If the goal is to maximize profits for owners, then the anticipated additional 3% of revenue (150mm/5.2b) makes sense from an economic perspective. Or, maybe the League’s owners were hoping that these ads would serve as a distraction from the foul play that Knicks fans were forced to endure this past year. I wonder if a 2.5in by 2.5in Gatorade logo on a gargantuan Serge Ibaka could be confused for the OKC Thunder logo by some? After the past many months of this electoral season, nothing surprises me anymore.

Ads run rampant in sports. Look no further than the Go Daddy logos that stretch across the car and uniform of Nascar’s femme fatale Danica Patrick. If you’ve been following the heir apparent to the Tiger Mantle, then you know that Jordan Spieth is #winning for Under Armour right now with the recent release of his golf shoes. I am still in the process of erasing his recent melt-down at the Masters from my memory.

Ads are immersed within our sports viewing experience as one can’t miss the backwards Nike Swoosh on NFL jerseys, countless half-time shows that are ‘brought to you by’, and all of the sponsorships on the side of the hockey rink. As the NBA takes this great leap of faith, I am confident that the other major sports will remain on the sidelines, waiting to see how NBA fans react before they decide to follow-suit. The NBA is holding true to its reputation as being progressive and it will be interesting to see to what happens next.

Zach Levine AdYet I wonder, to what extent will these logos have an impact?  Impact, not defined by how these ads relate to the quality of play during the 48 minutes, but the opportunity for true engagement with consumers. My belief is that there are two kinds of ads: active and passive.  Brands are in the business of building a customer base and developing loyalty, and in my view, this is rather passive. Finding opportunities for consumers to engage, test, and adopt a brand is where loyalty can be found. I’ll never forget the NIKE NYC Scavenger hunt that I participated in years ago. A billboard sits dormant in Times Square creates awareness, but not a following.

Yes– millions of people will watch the regular season and playoffs, but to me, this form of advertising would be best utilized as a complementary good, rather than a substitute. For those brands already invested in the NBA, there are greater opportunities for a higher Return on Investment as this will be part of a portfolio of exposure, rather than on its own. This may be an attractive opportunity for brands that are already invested in specific NBA all-stars to now invest in that team. Maybe we will see Kia on a Clippers jersey given the companies relationship with Blake Griffin, or a Powerade ad on Bulls Jerseys given its ties to Derick Rose. Or, there is a possibility that a major broadcasting network could promote a specific show to complement a 30 second commercial.

Only time will tell how marketing executives decide to use the space and how fans will react. Maybe these messages on jerseys will resonate with fans. Or, maybe, not at all.

Author: Ross Parket

Ross is a New Yorker interested in all things sports, business and strategy. In 2006, he was honored as TIME's Person of the Year. Ross graduated from the University of Chicago.

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