NBA Jersey Ads Likely in 2013

League says sponsor patches above the heart coming soon
LeBron James of the Miami Heat Illustration by 731 Lexington. Photograph by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Get ready for LeBron James and Mickey Mouse coming to a city near you. Or Jeremy Lin and the Jolly Green Giant. At a press conference yesterday in Las Vegas, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said that team owners were broadly in favor of a plan to put 2.5-by-2.5-inch sponsor patches above the heart on team uniforms. The plan still awaits formal approval, but Silver said he expects guidelines to be in place by the start of the coming season so that teams have a year to sell the patches and Adidas, which makes NBA uniforms, has time to add them to jerseys sold in stores.

In March we wrote about the likelihood of the NBA becoming the first of the four major U.S. sports leagues to put ads on game uniforms. (We also provided some fun scenarios for team and sponsor matches.) Silver gave a “loose projection” that the patches would generate $100 million per season for the league’s 30 teams. Eric Smallwood of Front Row Marketing Services, who has studied the television exposure of various on-jersey ads, says that number may be closer to $125 million. Smallwood anticipates an average annual price of between $4 million and $4.5 million for patch deals, with a range of $1.5 million to $7.5 million depending on a team’s market and players.

“That’s a fantastic location,” he says of the proposed patch. While smaller than the cross-chest treatment on uniforms for soccer teams in England’s Premier League, he says, it’s better for TV cameras, which tend to capture the upper chest and above. Not to mention the fans who will become walking billboards: “Where does your eye go? To the top part of a body.”

And just in case New York Knicks fans needed more reason to regret the team’s recent decision to let Jeremy Lin go to the Houston Rockets, Smallwood figures the patch will be an attractive property for a sponsor looking to piggyback on Lin’s celebrity for exposure in Asia. “All of a sudden in Asia there’s a pop-up of Rockets jerseys everywhere, and there’s a brand on there,” he says. Thanks to Lin, he anticipates Houston to be in the top five for patch deals.