Earlier this week, San Francisco CEO Larry Baer opened up about the future of Major League Baseball. Not the coming playoffs, next season, or what will happen to the New York Yankees without Captain Derek Jeter, though. He talked about advertisements on jerseys.
"I would forecast that it is coming. I think it is coming," Baer said, noting that while current commissioner Bud Selig is opposed to the move, he's retiring soon and incoming commish Rob Manfred might oversee "an evolution towards it."
In the United States, Major League Soccer is the biggest league whose teams have sponsors on their uniforms. But all four other major leagues are inching toward doing so. In addition to MLB, the NBA moved around its entire uniform design to accommodate the potential for advertising, with head honcho Adam Silver saying we're no more than five years away. The NFL allows ads on practice uniforms but not gameday jerseys. The NHL continues to hold out on an estimated $120 million windfall, not wanting to lead the way (despite the fact that every jersey already has a prominent Reebok logo).
We're long past the point where "purity" can be reasonably included in a sentence involving pro sports.
"Gary (Bettman) and owners like the money, but they don't want to be first out of the box with this in North America," a source told TSN. "They'll wait for the NBA or baseball to do it and then be second or third."
Inevitably, advertisements are coming to jerseys, which is good because the entire argument against them is patently absurd. Does anyone really believe that the multi-billion dollar operations that are professional sports will somehow be tainted by advertisements appearing on uniforms?
Sports are all about money, and there's value in advertising. Here's a quote from a ridiculous press release that suggests just how much: "Based on the equivalent size NBA Finals patch worn by the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder in June’s championship series, ImageTrack powered by Kantar Media puts the total advertising equivalent value [of that patch space] at $165 million from network television alone if the patches had been worn by all teams during the 2011 season."
The point is: Companies will pay teams for placement. It's a model that has been going on for years and years and years in professional soccer. Deutsche Telekom pays Bayern Munich $42 million, General Motors will hand Manchester United almost $600 million over the next seven years, and Barcelona gets $45 million a year from Qatar Airways. While some suitors are better than others—England has a gambling problem that's facilitated in part by these sponsorships—it's not hard to see blue chip brands battling with big money to own a spot on a Cowboys, Lakers, or Yankees jersey.
Would fans care? Doubtful. There might be some minor outcry during the initial announcement, but it would be forgotten by the time the next season rolled around or the next controversy took over the news cycle. We're long past the point where "purity" can be reasonably included in a sentence involving pro sports.
Would the players care? Also doubtful, especially since most salary caps are tied directly to league revenue. Increasing the amount of money coming in simply increases the amount of money ending up in their accounts.
Would the owners care? Heck no. They'd just add the figures to their checkbooks.
There's no reason not to have ads on jerseys. If you must, I suppose you can argue that sponsorships on jerseys are a slippery slope to a place where advertisements dominate the uniform at the expense of the team. But that hasn't happened in Europe and it won't happen in the U.S. And besides, when it comes to professional sports and money, we've been flipping out of control down the mountain for quite some time.