What’s the big deal with a jersey?

For years U.S. professional sports teams have pondered the idea of selling jersey sponsorships.  After reading this article on AdAge.com about a recent Horizon Media study (http://bit.ly/hAwdam), I wondered is this really a big deal?  Some industry insiders view this as the last remaining piece of purity within an already cluttered world.  They feel the team name across the chest is the brand and it should remain untainted.  This may be valid, but how are teams supposed to grow sponsorship revenue if jerseys remain off limits? 

There are only so many sponsor signs you can cram into a stadium or arena.  There are a limited number of sections or clubs within a ballpark to brand with a corporate name. Teams can’t keep raising prices on their existing inventory, especially when there is downward economic pressure in the marketplace.  So what other options are out there?

For close to 40 years Dodger Stadium displayed only two sponsor branded signs in the entire ballpark.  Both hovered above the scoreboards and featured Unical 76 (now Conoco Philips).  The O’Malleys who owned the Dodgers at the time and fans alike remained steadfast on keeping the stadium without advertising clutter.  It didn’t matter to them how much money was left on the table.  As a fan, I did appreciate the purity of watching a game at Dodger Stadium.  However, as a Dodger employee under the News Corp. regime it became clear that in order to remain competitive we needed to join the rest of the sports marketing world and introduce new advertising opportunities within the stadium.  The same scenario eventually rang true at the sacred grounds of Wrigley Field in Chicago.  The Cubs managed to hold out longer than anyone, but eventually broke with tradition.  In both situations the fans voiced their disappointment and anger, but the sentiment quickly dissipated as seasons rolled on. 

I imagine the same thing will happen if and when teams decide to sell jersey sponsorships.  All we need to do is look at what some of the European soccer teams generate with their jersey deals.  American based AON signed an approximate $130 million four year deal to adorn their name across the jerseys of Manchester United.  Other teams such as Real Madrid, Chelsea and AC Milan all boast deals in the $20 to $15 million per year range.  Fan backlash doesn’t seem to stand in the way.

Teams may decide to start small with an arm patch or a small logo placement.  The uniforms are already branded with Nike, Reebok or Adidas so what’s one more.  The sale of practice jersey sponsorships is already underway so the real deal is probably not too far behind.  I’m not sure I want to see the Farmer John Dodgers or the Toyota Lakers, but I’m sure we will find a way to get over it in time.