The NBA season kicks off on Tuesday, October 17th with an Eastern Conference Finals rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. When these rivals take the court, observant fans will notice something extra on their uniforms: advertisements.
That's right, the NBA will be the first of the four major professional U.S. sports leagues to advertise sponsorships on player uniforms in a move that's predicted to drive in an additional $100 million in revenue this year. The NBA is paving the way for other leagues to capitalize on the opportunity, and the NFL should be the first to follow their lead.
Last year, NFL ratings dropped eight percent, which translated to approximately 1.4 million less people watching each week. And while league revenues reached a new high of $14 billion last season, despite the decline in viewership, concerns over CTE, domestic violence and overall league image have clouded the NFL's outlook.
To help facilitate a change in direction, the NFL should pursue jersey advertisements, not just to increase profits, but also to fund initiatives that can help the league tackle some of its deep-seeded issues.
Viewership is Unlikely to Be Affected
One of the biggest concerns with uniform advertising is whether it will upset fans or cost the league viewers. Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil addressed that issue with Inc.com shortly after the team announced its uniform ad deal with StubHub. "I'd say Manchester United, Chelsea F.C., and Crystal Palace are doing OK," O'Neil said. "Those are world-beating brands."
In a savvy move, the NBA introduced these ad patches in line with the unveiling of their new uniform deal with Nike. The reception from fans has been mixed, but largely positive. There will always be fans who are inherently resistant to change, but the NBA will move forward, not allowing their temporary displeasure to hinder long-term revenues.
The NFL has given fans plenty of serious reasons to tune out; ad patches on jerseys would be among the least of fan concerns. A successful offseason unveiling, similar to the one the NBA just pulled off, is what the NFL would need to control the narrative around the move.
Creating an Opportunity to Care for Athletes
In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the research of a brain donation program of deceased American football players. It found that 99 percent of former NFL players who participated in the study suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a serious degenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
As fans watch some of their favorite stars suffer the debilitating consequences that stem from their time on the field, like the 2016 documentary Gleason depicts, they will continue to heighten demands for player safety.
The NFL has been hard pressed on all sides to resolve the ever-present head trauma issues within the sport--so much that the league is allocating $100 million to developing new technologies and conducting research on the topic. There has been much controversy surrounding the NFL's approach to finding a solution.
The league has since attempted to make greater strides in tackling the problem, from allocating more money to the cause to assembling an independent scientific advisory board. While the NBA revenue from the jersey advertisements are reportedly split 50-50 between individual teams and a league-wide revenue-sharing pool, the NFL would be wise to negotiate a deal with the owners to direct a percentage of this new revenue to a player safety fund.
This type of sponsorship opportunity would likely give the NFL the means to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue. It would simultaneously fund programs focused on CTE research and developing safer rules, equipment, medical standards and post-career care for its athletes.
If the NFL follows suit after the NBA, the jersey sponsorships would offer the league a new avenue to reach its revenue goals while mending its fractured reputation.