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Some Thoughts About Advertising vs. Sponsorship

On Saturday, the day after NBA owners voted to go ahead with uni ads for the 2017-18 season, Uni Watch reader Mike Wissman sent the league an email criticizing their decision. Yesterday he received a form letter from a “Fan Relations” representative, as follows:

Thanks for contacting us regarding NBA jersey sponsorships.

The NBA Board of Governors approved the sale of jersey sponsorships, beginning with the 2017-18 season, as part of a three-year pilot program. The sponsorship patch will appear on the front left of the game jerseys and measure approximately 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches.

We believe that jersey sponsorships will more deeply engage our partners without negatively impacting the competition on the court, and the additional investment will help grow the game in exciting new ways. We appreciate that many fans have a deep admiration for the NBA’s traditions and a strong connection with our uniforms.

We’re always thinking about innovative ways the NBA can remain competitive in a global marketplace, and we are excited to see the results of this three-year trial.

Thanks again for writing us. We appreciate your sharing your views.

Okay, so it’s your basic soulless corporate form letter. The one interesting thing about it is the incessant repetition of the word “sponsorship(s),” which appears four times in the first thee paragraphs.

This is not a new trope for the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver, for example, has repeatedly referred to Kia, which had an ad patch on this year’s NBA All-Star jerseys, as a “sponsor.” And of course the use of “sponsor” in the sports world is not limited to the NBA. People who follow soccer often refer to “jersey sponsors” or “kit sponsors”; companies that buy the naming rights to a sports venue are sometimes called “stadium sponsors” or “arena sponsors” or “naming sponsors”; companies are also referred to as “sponsoring” a certain part of a stadium; and so on.

I’ve sometimes lapsed into using this language myself, but I’m not going to do it anymore. Because let’s be clear: These are not sponsors, and we should stop calling them that. They are advertisers.

It’s understandable why people like Adam Silver and his “Fan Relations” representatives would want to use the term “sponsor” instead of “advertiser.” Why? Because “sponsor” is a nice-sounding word, and when used accurately, it usually (but not always) describes a person or organization providing a nice service. It has much more positive connotations than “advertiser” (which, incidentally, appears exactly zero times in the form letter that the NBA sent out).

In short, a sponsor is an advocate that provides essential support. Sometimes that support is financial, sometimes not. Here are some non-financial examples:

• When you want to join an exclusive club and need a current member to vouch for you before you’re allowed to join, that member is a sponsor.

• When your boss tells his boss that you’ve been doing a good job and deserve a raise, your boss is acting as your sponsor.

•  When my ESPN editor tries to convince the higher-ups that one my articles should get more prominent play on the ESPN website, he is acting as my sponsor.

• When you’re in AA and you have someone who looks after you and makes sure you don’t mess up, that person is a sponsor.

• When a legislator proposes a bill and shepherds it from subcommittee to committee to the floor of the legislative body, that legislator is the bill’s sponsor.

Now let’s look at some financial examples of sponsorship, including some from the sports world:

• When a corporation provides funds from its do-gooder budget to a nonprofit or volunteer cultural group, that corporation is a sponsor.

• When a local business provides funds for a Little League team to purchase its uniforms and equipment in return for the players wearing the business’s name on their jerseys, that business is a sponsor.

• When a company like Nike provides funds and resources for an amateur athletics association, that company is a sponsor.

• When a government provides funds, arms, and tactical support for a militant group, that government is a sponsor (which is where we get the term “state-sponsored terrorism”).

And so on. What do all of these examples — financial and non-financial — have in common? This: Without the support of the sponsor, the person or thing being supported would likely fail, or cease to exist, or not have come into existence in the first place.

Leaving aside Little League and the like, the companies buying space on soccer jerseys and renaming stadiums aren’t providing essential support. If those companies disappeared or withdrew their funds, the team would still be able to afford the jerseys and the stadiums would still keep running just fine. These companies aren’t sponsoring anything — they’re just advertising. Maybe you’re okay with those forms of advertising and maybe you’re not, but it would be nice if we could at least describe them accurately.

I’ve found myself discussing this issue with several people lately. Longtime Uni Watch reader Cork Gaines, for example, who does a great job writing about sports for Business Insider, recently told me that the advertiser/sponsor distinction is something he’s trying to be more aware of these days. But not everyone agrees. When the issue came up during an email back-and-forth that I was recently having with a reader (a reader, I should add, who is very articulate and thoughtful in his writing), his response was, “Eh, this is really just semantics.”

But it’s not just semantics, and it’s not just a tomato/tomahto thing. It’s language, and language matters. And you know how you can tell it matters? Because you can hear people like Adam Silver and his “Fan Relations” representatives steadfastly using “sponsor” all the time instead of “advertiser.” They know “sponsor” is a warmer, fuzzier term, a term that sounds like it’s based in fellowship and partnership and goodwill, not in commerce or greed. The repeated use of “sponsor” is just another form of marketing spin — a subtle one, and therefore a particularly insidious one.

Can sponsorship and advertising coexist or overlap? Definitely. That local business sponsoring the Little League team is an advertiser and a sponsor. In fact, here’s a little story about how the overlap between advertising and sponsorship has affected me personally:

As some of you may recall, back in 2014 I wrote a bunch of articles for the design website re:Form (yes, it’s an awkward site name, I know). If you look at any of those articles, you’ll see “Presented by BMW” near the top of the page. That was an ad, sure, but it was more than that, because BMW was literally sponsoring re:Form — without BMW, the site would not have come into existence. BMW made a six-month financial commitment to the site, and at the end of those six months they decided not to renew their support., which owned the site, tried to recruit a new company to take BMW’s place, but they couldn’t find one. So that was the end of re:Form. The site was shut down (although at least the content was kept available), the editor lost her job, and I lost a place to write about cool design topics. The phrase “Presented by [Whomever]” is often just another bogus euphemism for advertising, but in this case “Presented by BMW” was the literal truth. That’s sponsorship.

I realize many of you don’t find the encroachment of advertising and corporate culture as problematic as I do. But if you don’t have any problems with advertising, then you also shouldn’t have any problems describing it accurately by calling it, you know, advertising, instead of mistakenly calling it sponsorship. And for those of you who share my concerns, we should all be calling advertising what it is. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, the debate will be a lot more fruitful if we define our terms accurately. Using inaccurate terms just clouds the issue — which, I’m fairly sure, is exactly what people like Adam Silver and his “Fan Relations” representatives want. #NoUniAds

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Collector’s Corner
By Brinke Guthrie

Even though we’re well into the MLB season, and we’ve got postseasons for hockey and hoops underway, there’s never a bad time for some retro NFL here at Collector’s Corner. Take a look at the artwork on this 1971 Atlanta Falcons fact book, for example — good stuff! Tight end Jim Mitchell on the cover, by the way.

Now for the rest of the week:

• If you recall, Phil had this Astros Signature story a couple of weeks back, and it included a never-worn prototype cap. So of course New Era is now selling that cap. And is just just me, or does this cap/logo look like it belongs to a Kwik-E-Mart store? Astro-Mart, maybe?

• Golden State Warriors fans, you can wear this vintage Starter jacket to Oracle Arena to watch your team steamroll its next victim.

• Nice artwork on the cover of this 1971 Kessler Football Fans guide.

• Also from 1971, a clean set of Denver Broncos book covers from NFL Properties. I had a Cowboys binder like these, but don’t recall the book covers. (I di recall making book covers by cutting out grocery bags, however.)

• How about this Bucco Bruce helmet plaque. Even though he’s unfairly attached to the Bucs’ winless debut season, don’t you think he’d look good instead of those pewter outfits with the digital clock numbers? But of course.

• With the Rams back in L.A., it’s the perfect time to wear this Rams NFL Alumni shirt.

• Sorry, but speaking as a former Big Red Machine fan, Tony Perez just does not look right wearing Expos colors, like on this 1977 Expos Media Guide. [Brinke, which pains you more: Perez in an Expos uni or Pete Rose in an Expos uni? ”” PL]

• Great logos on these: the 1977 NL Green Book and AL Red Book.

• Good-quality 1970s Miami Dolphins gym bag right here. Love the 1970s facemask design.

• Here’s a plaque kinda thing for the 1971 Cowboys Super Bowl win. I distinctly remember this one — I wondered why there was no facemask! Yes, I Got Itâ„¢ even at age 11.

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The Ticker
By Mike Chamernik

Baseball News: The Red Sox wore their “Boston” home whites for yesterday’s Patriots’ Day matinee. … The Kane County Cougars will wear a jersey featuring portraits of military personnel on the shoulders (from Ricky Schumaker). … A Silicon Valley sports-tech company produces a Smart Bat, which has sensors in its handle that measures hand speed on a swing and impact. The bat will be hitting the market soon and is currently used for practice. Mike Trout used it in Spring Training this year (from Jason Ricles). … The Columbia Fireflies have neon jerseys (from LA Urban Legend). … Pete Rose turned 75 a few days ago, so his high school alma mater, Western Hills in Cincinnati, honored him with 1963 throwbacks (from Steve Colyer, the assistant varsity baseball coach at the school). … Orix Buffaloes will wear summer festival uniforms with outer space nebulas and the city colors. Scroll down on the link for images. Here’s how the site, through a rough Japanese translation from Google, described the unis: “Hot season came. Orix Buffaloes, the summer of the big event. Eighth year of this season, infinite door is opened. Koero the wall! Koero yourself! Break on through! Now Let’s go, to a new dimension. Yobiokose, the instinct to fight. In a special uniform to hold six days who designed the I think, will wear the director Coach players” (from Jeremy Brahm). ”¦ There was a rain delay at last night’s Twins game, so the Target Field video board showed the Wild’s playoff game (from Tony Tengwall). ”¦ Due to a technological glitch, the bat on a Cardinals player’s jersey looked green during the broadcast of last night’s game. ”¦ Auburn has some new alternate uniforms that aren’t so great. Worst detail: the school logo on the kneecap. ”¦ Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper apparently had some problems last night with the D-backs’ new road charcoals (from @sflunatricfringe). ”¦ Royals great George Brett appeared in a 1978 episode of Fantasy Island wearing teammate Tom Poquette’s jersey (from @HOVG).

NFL News: A Maryland artist created Tampa-themed cleats for Draft prospect Vernon Hargreaves III. The cornerback wore them during the NFL Combine and his pro day (from Matt Baker). … Browns DL Danny Shelton is changing his number from 71 to 55 and is promising fans who bought his old jersey that he’ll do something to make it up to them (from Andrew Jenkins).

College Football News: Oregon State is awarding practice helmet stickers for success in the weight room and the classroom (from Phil). … For its spring game, Oklahoma State put black decals on helmets for black team and orange for orange (from Justin Mitchell). … A graphic artist made a BFBS Michigan Jordan Brand alternate uni concept (from Andrew Cosentino). … Russ Havens put together a collection of 1950s Pac 12 ticket stubs, featuring the California teams. Both Russ and I enjoy how the tickets depicted opposing schools.

Hockey News: The Flyers hung a memorial banner outside the Wells Fargo Center for team founder Ed Snider. They also stenciled his initials into the ice behind the net (from @walkerdb7). … The Sharks gave away teal T-shirts for last night’s game. Unclear if they purposely went retro with the old logo (from Ryan Walters). … No photo, but a 57-foot Lightning logo made out of doughnuts will be on display in Tampa this morning. … Some players still get upset when people step on the team logo on the carpets in the dressing room.

NBA News: The Celtics are suffering from the Curse of the Black Trim. They have lost all eight times they’ve worn their black-trimmed “Boston” alts in the postseason over the last decade. PG Isaiah Thomas says the team will wear its traditional roads tonight against the Hawks (from Pete Wells). … Here’s a pretty good depiction of the Warriors’ complex logo in a soda case display (from Sean Barbante). ”¦ Kevin Durant continues to wear his sock-obscuring sneakers. ”¦ NBA commish Adam Silver thinks Nike will take the league’s uniforms “to another level.”

Soccer News: Arsenal’s 2016-17 home shirt has apparently leaked (from Phil). … The New England Revolution wore these Boston Marathon warm-up shirts on Sunday (from Tim Cross).

Grab Bag: Yesterday’s Boston Marathon had a logo for 50 years of women participants. … Print copies of a re-created mid-1970s NASA graphics manual are now for sale. They can also be downloaded as a PDF for free (from Brinke). … A panel of design experts discussed how instant feedback from social media influences logo design. … Eric Bangeman says that the jerseys for the Northwest Side Narwhals, a youth rugby club, have arrived. “I know that purple is unloved at Uni-Watch HQ, but going with purple means we will never clash with another team or referees as we are the only youth program in Illinois wearing purple,” Eric says. “Note the dual maker’s marks: BLK on the front and Rugby Athletic, from whom we ordered, on the back.” I’m just amazed that we have youth rugby, and not but 10 miles away from me in Chicago. … New logo for Google Play Music.

Comments (123)

    I thought Adam Silver was good when he first started, but now he’s just a corporate stooge.

    Agreed; in addition to all the sponsorship nonsense, see his corporate doublespeak in the link about the change to Nike uniforms. Take them to another level, my ass; it’s all about who ponied up the most cash, period. We’re at the point where it would just be refreshing to hear one of these stooges simply say, ‘we went with X because they gave us the most money’.

    Is anyone really surprised? They put corporate lawyers in charge of the four major sports leagues, then wonder why they don’t seem to care about the game anymore.

    The only thing I have to say to Adam Silver and the NBA on their constant references to “sponsors” is this quote:

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    . . . also “partners”. In nearly all cases advertisers shouldn’t be partners. A partner (excluding some specifically statutorily limited partners) has some right to input on the organization’s policies. If entities really believe advertisers are that type of partners, they’ve sold the last scraps of their integrity. If they call them partners but don’t treat them as real partners, they’re just pathetic liars.

    There’s also “members” for season ticket holders that’s come up lately. Members of what? It’s not like you’re actually on the team or anything.

    The kicker beyond all else regarding the inclusion of advertising on the the jerseys for me is the fact that the ad will not be included on those made available for retail. I guess ‘sponsorship’ only goes so far when you realize it will impact the sale of your $200 polyester jerseys.

    A competitive sports organization that unabashedly enforces its playing rules differently to give advantages to more-marketable players has already sacrificed its integrity in my book. I expect nothing less from the NBA.

    As for the “partners” piece, though, I think that might be applicable. Yes, it’s kind of the tail wagging the dog, but you can’t tell me the NBA isn’t the kind of organization that will make a change or two if its advertisers recommend them. We saw this in what was generally considered a *positive* way when the league’s sponsors basically dissociated themselves from Donald Sterling, forcing the NBA to take action to essentially remove him from the league.

    Something I think we need to understand: The NBA, and most sports leagues, are not leagues set up to determine who is best team or players. They are now businesses set up to make the most money. Once upon a time, they served the first purpose, but it has transitioned to the second. The means to the money is providing entertaining basketball, but it’s about the money. There are terms for those who completely sell themselves out to make money, but a lot of them aren’t appropriate for this forum. Nonetheless, I think a lot of those terms apply to the NBA.

    If you truly believe that sports leagues & franchises cropped up for the altruistic function of crowning a champion, I’ve got a reading recommendation for you:
    There’s a brilliant anecdote in there about the time Walter O’Malley went on a rampage one season in front of a new front-office employee about how much money the Brooklyn Dodgers were losing, and after he stormed out of the room the newcomer turned to a colleague and asked “What was that all about? The Dodgers are on course to show a $4 million profit this year.” The colleague’s reply: “Yeah, but last year we made $6 million!”

    I hate when partner is used. I work for a company that is “partner” of the Olympic Games and it is nothing but an advertiser.
    We just pay the OG to be able to use their logo and boast about our partnership while nothing important has really been done with them

    We believe that jersey sponsorships will more deeply engage our partners without negatively impacting the competition on the court, and the additional investment will help grow the game in exciting new ways.


    It also won’t *positively* impact the game on the court. The rich get richer, the jerseys get uglier, and we still have to watch commercials and pay far too much money for tickets and/or merch. There’s literally no positive aspect for the fans.

    So biased. You’re intentionally ignoring the part where they clearly state that the uni ads “will help grow the game in exciting new ways”!

    Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out what that part means, given that the money is going to the teams that already exist rather than any sort of arena building/expansion team fund. I guess they could create an NBA Network, similar to what the NFL has – You know, a bunch of filler and a few key games that people without cable can’t watch. That’s exciting, right?

    I’m curious how much the official NBA sponsorship by Kia moves cars, and how much the jersey advertisements will move product. Has there been much study on this that we are privy to? I know it’s not going to help me make a purchase if Patrick Beverly has a Fruit Of The Loom ad on his jersey, but is there a discernible cause and effect here?

    The mechanisms of advertising, even in the more obvious form of a TV commercial, aren’t always as simple as a direct cause/effect that translates immediately to a sales bump. A lot of it has to do with a longer-term effect of making the advertiser subliminally seem legitimate, omnipresent, “in the air,” and so on. It’s sort of like making the advertiser rise to the top (or at least near the top) of your mental Google search results when you think about a given product/service category. That may not necessarily make you want to purchase that item, but it will make that item a more attractive or legitimate-seeming option when you’re considering such a purchase.

    Didn’t know that… as my cable provider doesn’t include that one. So… yeah, I’m completely lost on what “growing in new and exciting ways” is supposed to mean. A league with billionaire owners and millionaire players needs more money to “grow”. Sure.

    Maybe the bestest advertisers could buy special perks for their preferred teams. Or there could be auctions among competing fans. “If you want the Dunkers to get an extra timeout, buy a Geico insurance policy in the next ten minutes. If you don’t want them to get the extra timeout, book a Carnival cruise.”

    Well how about that? I’ve had no exposure to that franchise. Just something in the zeitgeist.

    Has the Player’s Association checked in on this? Do they want their cut of the loot?

    It’s right there in the ESPN news article linked from the first graf: “The money will be counted as basketball-related income and, therefore, split with the players.”

    “we still have to watch commercials and pay far too much money for tickets and/or merch. There’s literally no positive aspect for the fans.”

    No one is forcing fans to pay too much for tickets (or seat licenses) and merchandise. No one is forcing fans to watch and suffer through more commercials. I personally decided years ago to sit on my wallet regarding spending money on professional sports corporations. Same for big time college sports. I still feel an allegiance to my hometown team and wish them well, but they can do so with much less of my money. I’m not sure how the ‘partnerships’ between corporations and increasing segments of our society are to be curtailed if the customer/fan continues paying for it. I view spending money on professional sports as an easy area to reign in spending. I’d like to see the sports spending bubble, professional and college, pop.

    Very true. There’s always the option to just turn it off.

    I basically did so with the NBA back in the 90’s. When the league basically started to push us to root for and follow players over teams, and said players would march into Milwaukee and get preferential officiating treatment in the process of beating our Bucks, I said, “This isn’t worth my money.”

    College basketball at least feels like the on-court product is more fair, even if the off-court issues are worse.

    You don’t have to watch. I basically don’t. Part of me has wondered if maybe this is the time for Paul to stop reporting on NBA uniform changes as sort of a follow-through on the #NoUniAds piece. The sponsors aren’t there and the leagues don’t exist if we don’t watch. Maybe it’s time not to do so.

    You’re on to something here Bill. The leagues keep doing it because too many fans let them get away with it. Same reason they keep moving more prime sporting events to cable – they know enough people are willing to pay for cable.

    I spend almost $0 on my sports fandom – but suffer the consequences of people who do.

    Could get Sling TV for $20 month for your cable instead. It’s not perfect, but they don’t show very many ads (just dead space) That’ll drop it down a bit.

    Exactly; I’m just waiting for the day when Nike, UA, et al. start taking over teams completely, as in, ‘tonight’s matchup between New York Nike and Charlotte adidas’.

    I have to say I agree with Ray Ferraro on the whole locker room floor logo thing. There is no good reason for there to be a team logo on the floor to begin with, and I find it ridiculous that everybody has to be careful about it in the locker room when they’re skating over it 60 minutes or more out on the ice.

    And don’t tell me that “there’s a barrier of ice over the logo, so they’re not actually on it”. There’s no such “barrier” in football or basketball; are you going to tell me the logos in those sports are any less “sacred” because of it?

    It’s like my mom always told me, if you don’t want it stepped on, don’t leave it on the floor in the first place.

    Bear in mind, I consider myself a hockey traditionalist. I enjoy a lot of the traditions of the game, but this is one that I simply do not agree with, because, as I said at the top of this post, it simply has no good reason to exist.

    How less interesting a place the world would be if there were no “unwritten rules”. Some of the things that occur in sports can make the mafia look cut-and-dried.

    There are plenty of unwritten rules I’m fine with. It’s this particular one that makes no sense to me.

    I agree it’s silly, and I’m glad someone like Ferraro is willing to go against the grain on this.

    But the logo on the floor does have a purpose: forced deference to the team. An interior decorating version of “there’s no ‘I’ in team.”

    On a side note, I also don’t understand this need, this obsession, to have the media in the locker room to begin with. But, that toothpaste was squeezed out of the tube decades ago, and I’d be genuinely shocked if a major league decided that it wasn’t going to be permitted anymore.

    Kuiper’s problem with the D-Backs uniform isn’t that the base fabric is too dark, it’s that the numbers are too low-contrast. Which is a problem for several teams, though mainly on alternate jerseys. It’s typical of baseball’s aesthetic conservatism (of which I’m often guilty) that innovations are criticized for problems that have nothing to do with the innovation itself and that are actually common to existing and widely accepted uniforms.

    I have a hard time believing it never came up in the design phase that the graphics might need a white outline.

    I can believe it. I’m not persuaded that function gets much consideration when MLB teams do uni design. Anyway, white outlines wouldn’t solve the problem. The numbers themselves need bright/dark contrast with the jersey fabric. So, white or maybe teal numbers. Black or dark red will fail no matter what outlines they have.

    I’ve always wondered how much time during the design process the individuals involved (designers, team execs, etc) spend looking at the uniforms in the way most fans will see them – from a distance. I can imagine that most of those involved never look at the uniforms from further than the other side of a room.

    There are a LOT of uniforms that I think look really nice in closeups but not so good from a distance (fans in the stands, or normal TV cameras during gameplay). The Diamondback unis are a good example; the numbers are easily legible in closeups, but when viewed from a distance during play they aren’t.

    PS: I think old gold trim suffers from the same thing. Up close (say on the Brewers) it looks great, but completely “disappears” the further away you get.

    I’ve always wondered how much time during the design process the individuals involved (designers, team execs, etc) spend looking at the uniforms in the way most fans will see them — from a distance.

    Actually, a lot of time is spent looking at the uniforms under game-like lighting conditions, on video, etc. It’s something they definitely take into account.

    “a lot of time is spent looking at the uniforms under game-like lighting conditions, on video, etc. It’s something they definitely take into account.”

    It sure as hell doesn’t show.

    Remember when the Kansas City Royals had a pastel blue uniform with plain white graphics? Would you guess they started with a version that had royal blue lettering, and then blue with white outlines, and reached the conclusion white lettering presented the optimal contrast? Speculation on my part, but that kind of experimentation would seem to yield the outside-the-box version the Royals ended up with. Especially under the lights, that uniform provided everything one could ask for.

    I was at the Giants game last night with seats in the sixth row of the left field bleachers. On the D-Backs left fielder the number was pretty clear but you could not really make out the name (and I knew what it was). You could not make out the name or number of the infielders or pitcher. You could only tell if they had a one digit or two digit number.

    Can’t tell the players without a program….. and high powered binoculars.

    It’s a rugby team that plays in a league.

    or something.

    But this is what you have a problem with? Not the fact that the narwhal in the logo has its link rather than from its mouth?

    Ah, well, if link, then why not?

    To be fair it’s like saying an NFL team who plays in an Arena is an Arena Football team – two variations of a similar game.

    I still say we should change the name of the “National Basketball League” to the “National Basketball Advertising Association”.

    The WNBA corporate logos on the jerseys can, maybe, be considered sponsors moreso than advertisers. Even with those sponsorships, the WNBA probably bleeds NBA money, but with them, it bleeds it in a way such that the league is at least viable and not a total drain.

    I concur that sponsorship and advertising are two distinct items. Sometimes, however, even in pro sport that distinction gets blurred. For instance, without ads on uniforms most English Premiership Rugby and lower level rugby sides would indeed fail. This crosses into the sponsorship area. However, it’s also a revenue generator so it’s advertising as well. To me, the ads by the NBA are purely for revenue purposes. That is to make more money. Hence, they shouldn’t be called sponsors as you stated Paul.

    From a non-aesthetic perspective I would gladly have uniform advertisements similar to those seen in soccer if it also meant that our sporting events wouldn’t have commercial breaks except between quarters, halves and periods. However, I think what we will get is jerseys littered with advertisements along with a commercial break every 5 minutes.

    Great topic
    I think american sports are taking advantage of the fact that other professional teams do need sponsors.
    Take F1 for example. The factory teams like Ferrari or Mercedes can survice without advertisers as they have budgets from their companies. On the other hand you have Sauber, Manor and Haas that do need the advertisers in order to keep participating. There are even drivers that need this sponsoring advertisers to get to the grid.
    The same happens in soccer where not all teams have the same power, especially second and third tier teams (remember there is relegation in soccer, unlike the 5 leagues in the US).
    Yes, all should be called advertisers, but the situation isn’t as crystal clear in other places as it is in the US sports as the leagues (except for the Premier League) do not share revenues like the NFL, NBA and others do.

    There is a point where TV revenue, ticket sales and whatnot could potentially sustain a team without having a need for sponsorship. In America, most of the big leagues are well beyond that point with existing, non-uniform advertising.

    In fairness, most Premier League teams probably wouldn’t need kit advertisements to be viable, either. But because the lines between the levels are so much blurrier with promotion and relegation in such leagues, it’s understandable that the custom is to keep the space.

    Great lead today. The key point is that nothing is ever “just semantics.” To say that something is a matter of semantics is to say that it’s more important, not less, than if it were a matter of mere observation.

    But I’m not persuaded there’s such a bright line between advertisers and sponsors. Take the Bad News Bears. Chico’s Bail Bonds is clearly the team’s sponsor, in that without Chico’s support, the team would at least have no uniforms and may not even be able to participate in its league. Also, the Bears are in effect a community charitable organization, not a for-profit business. (And yes, Chico’s is also an advertiser, since there’s nothing inherent in the role of a sponsor that requires insisting on displaying the sponsor’s name on the uniform. That’s an advertisement, and much of the time companies become sponsors precisely because it gives them access to a form of advertisement they would otherwise not have.) Now let’s say that next year, Chico’s drops out, and Coach Buttermaker cobbles together the sponsorship money the team needs from three different businesses. No one of them is individually essential to the team’s existence like Chico’s was. So none meets Paul’s standard for sponsorship in this circumstance. Yet collectively, the three businesses have the same relationship to the team that Chico’s did.

    So are the three businesses sponsors? If not, then what defines Chico’s as a sponsor is not its relationship to the team but simply the fact that it’s the only actor with that relationship. And we’ve removed the distinction between “advertiser” and “sponsor” from the important, principled world of semantics to a trivial numbers question. But if the three businesses are sponsors, then so are most newsmedia advertisers. The relationship between any of the Bears’ funders and the team is identical to the relationship between any radio station’s advertisers and the station. Individually, the loss of their revenue would not imperil the enterprise. But collectively, their revenue makes the difference between whether the enterprise exists or not.

    Which suggests to me that there must be some other element to be considered when distinguishing between advertisers and sponsors. Merely whether the funding in question is existentially important to the enterprise is not a sufficient standard. Perhaps we need to consider some element of involvement beyond simple monetary support. Or perhaps the nature of the enterprise being supported plays some role. A little league team is a charitable community good, so it can have sponsors. A radio station is a for-profit business, so it cannot.

    My first little league uniform had the name of a local liquor store on the back. I think of it as a sponsor less because the store provided the funds to pay for our team’s existence and more because the store sent a cooler full of juice and soda to every one of our games. I just assumed that every team got refreshments given to them after every game, until my dad explained that this was something the store did for us. Does that extra bit of support beyond paying money to have the company name on the uniform make the liquor store a true sponsor? Or does that extra mile of support elevate the sponsor to the status of a patron?

    I’d have to think about this for a while before crafting a response, but Scott raises interesting points.

    In the low, low levels of English and Scottish soccer, you can sponsor just about anything: shirts, shorts, socks, the ball, individual players, etc. Unlike the upper levels, the lower levels do need the money to continue. A lot of the time the sponsors are individuals or families instead of companies. They’ll get their name in the game program and if they sponsor a player they often get the players jersey at the end of the year. (Always thought it would be fun if I ever owned a business to sponsor some Scottish team in a remote location.) The businesses who sponsor the players may be doing it as a form of advertising, but there isn’t really a difference between the family that supports their favorite player and the restaurant who hopes to curry favor with the fans.

    That exists here too. Look at any NPSL or PDL team, they request the same type of sponsorships.

    Also, many college athletic programs/departments do similar fundraising.

    Had just come to say this same thing. The club I support in Scotland, Ross County F.C., would probably still be in the Highland League rather than in the top half of the Premiership without corporate “sponsorship.” In RCFC’s case, their chairman- Roy McGregor- not only pours his/his company’s money into the club in return for advertising (it’s now “Global Energy Stadium” rather than Victoria Park), but he also uses his personal and business relationships to get, for example, kit sponsors (CRC-Evans/Stanley) that bring additional funds into the club. This money is often the difference between being able to afford another/a better player, paying for supporters’ buses to away matches, etc. Clubs in the English and Scottish lower levels without a chairman like this, are, as you said, even MORE dependent on sponsorships (individual players, the match ball, the program, 50/50 raffles. etc.) than County are and their ability to field the best possible side is directly tied to their ability to sell these sponsorships.

    So NASCAR is at least semi-appropriately using the term “sponsership” right? Without those corporations many of those teams would fail right?

    I couldn’t agree more. I reallyreallyreally wish there were no reason for me to write pieces like today’s.

    Unfortunately, though, there is.

    Among the topics that I’m guessing will, or could, arise soon, maybe not from Paul but from other sources:

    – Advertising on pre-advertising throwbacks
    – Which advertiser is on which uniform
    – Color contrast between advertiser and uniform
    – Which ads look better/worse with uniforms

    Etc. It’s going to get ugly.

    Is anything as cool as the original Atlanta Falcons typeface? Whenever I see it, it puts me in mind of a tiki lounge or an ad for ukuleles.

    It’s the NBA… I’ve slept on this and I realize that I don’t get excited until my team reaches the Conference Finals, which isn’t often enough to keep my interest in the NBA. I say let them do whatever they want with the uniforms.

    Heck, I don’t watch college basketball until the tournament and then my interest only lasts as long as Cinderella does as I find “chalk” boring… So…

    Wow, I’m starting to realize I don’t really care about televised basketball that much at all.

    I’m a lot like you. I barely pay attention to the Pistons before the playoffs even when they are good, and only really care about whether or not Michigan qualifies for the tournament and how far they go if they do. I just don’t have much interest in basketball in general.

    And that’s fine. Everybody’s free to have different interests.

    At what point is a company both a sponsor and an advertiser? I’d suggest in auto racing that’s the case. Without their sponsorship money, they don’t race, but they use the sponsorship as a lead in to advertising. I’m thinking about Steak and Shake or Verizon in Indycar, who sponsor cars, but who also buy ads during the broadcast.

    “The Celtics are suffering from the Curse of the Black Trim. They have lost all eight times they’ve worn their black-trimmed “Boston” alts in the postseason over the last decade.”

    It’s probably Red Auerbach cursing them from beyond the grave. Could be worse, could be those gray monstrosities.

    I’m beginning to wonder if the backlash towards uni ads will be enough to offset the $3-4 million made by each team. Will the reduction in jersey sales and potentially ticket sales be enough to force out the ads? Thoughts?

    But if they do that, my 200 polyester shirt wouldn’t be the same as the one worn by a kid 10 years younger than me on the court. I wouldn’t have the officialest (sic) product.
    Seriously though, this puzzles me as advertising in soccer jerseys serves the brands to have people working as walking billboards and help maintain the brands presence. I’m glad that it won’t show up on retail, but I’m not sure this will last long.
    Also, having advertisers helps “date” the jerseys. To the regular eye, jerseys may not change that much over the years, but having a logo can show how old your jersey is and thus drive the sales of new jerseys.

    Oh! This is a fun detail to explore. While opposed to the NBA’s rationale for jersey “sponsors” in the first place, I’m equally dissatisfied that these ad patches won’t appear on retail jerseys. I look at uniforms as a snapshot in time, which I why the ongoing changes to game jerseys (fabrics, makers’ marks, typography, etc.) are all really interesting to me. Certainly a retail hockey sweater with a tie-down strap serves little functional purpose for the average consumer, but that level of detail supports its place in history. Not including ad patches on consumer products makes the NBA position that much clearer: these ads are simply a new (and to me, lazy) revenue stream for teams.

    Paul, thanks again for covering this topic.

    Sponsors (plural) or advertisers (plural) means that a team could sell ads per player or positions or award winners… “Your starting center, sponsored by Men’s Warehouse where you can find sizes for big and tall, from the university of _______…” “Your sixth man of the year award winner is brought to you by Taco Bell.” “Your bench players who ride the pine are brought to you by lumber liquidators hardwood flooring suppliers.” This is all nonsense. The NBA is an ad itself. Who is it trying to remain competitive with? China’s league? Europe?

    I am more offended by “We believe that jersey sponsorships will more deeply engage our partners” than I am the use of the word “sponsorship.” Who gives a shit whether they better engage with their “partners”? And they need to remain competitive in the global marketplace? Are they losing players to CSKA Moscow because CSKA has sponsors and NBA teams don’t?

    I am an avid soccer fan, and I have a collection of almost 200 soccer jerseys. I hate shirt advertisements for soccer (the majority of the shirts I buy have no sponsor), but I’m more or less resigned to them. They have no salary cap, and once one team decided to sell ads for their kits, all other teams that opt not to were at a competitive disadvantage. Moreover, soccer really IS a global marketplace. Teams need as much financial clout as they can get. This does not really apply to the NBA. They’re not really competing with global teams, and if you were to make the argument that they’re competing for viewership amongst other American sports, well, none of those teams devote their jerseys to ad space either. I doubt very much that the NBA is proactively combating MLS.

    This will not result in lower ticket prices, and there’s no reason to think the added revenue will go directly to player salaries. The NBA owners – who share PROFITS, by the way – just want more profits to go around.

    I am an avid soccer fan, and I have a collection of almost 200 soccer jerseys. I hate shirt advertisements for soccer (the majority of the shirts I buy have no sponsor)…

    Interesting how you began by using “advertisement” but then used “sponsor.”

    While I am not a big fan of award helmet decals personally (they clutter up the helmet and seem to be disproportionately awarded to some positions) I like that Oregon St is granting them for academic achievements. They are student athletes, and most will need to find employment outside of professional football when their college career is done. I hope more schools find ways to recognize achievements off the field.

    I remember that Fantasy Island episode vividly.

    George Brett wore #25 in 1973-74. George Brett was from Southern California so it could be that he was visiting his family during the off season of 1977 when he was asked if he wanted to to be in that Fantasy Island episode. Most likely the only uniform he had available was a #25 jersey from his rookie & second year at his father’s house. Notice that he doesn’t even have the uniform pants to go along with it.

    They also seemed to recruit other native Southern Californian All Stars like Lynn and Valentine so it wouldn’t be a team full of Dodgers.

    Tom Poquette originally wore #44 for the Royals and switched to #25 in 1976. Brett wore #25 as a rookie in 1973 and #5 was unavailable in 1974 because it was being worn by Richie Sheinblum. Brett switched to #5 in 1975 once Sheinblum left after ’74.

    It still seems odd to me that Paul is making such a big deal about this when the NFL and MLB as well as the NCAA have allowed advertising on uniforms for decades.

    Oh, sorry, those are “maker’s marks”…

    I’ve been on record as opposing makers’ marks for more than a decade now, so I’m not sure what “seems odd” to you.

    That said: While I think makers’ marks and uniform ads are both objectionable, I also think uni ads are worse. The Majestic logo on a baseball uniform, while unnecessary, at least makes a certain kind of sense, since Majestic manufactured the uniform. But a Kia ad on an NBA uniform makes zero sense.

    If you still think my positions on these issues “seem odd,” and/or if you think there’s no substantive difference between makers’ marks and uni ads, please tell us why. Thanks.

    What I mean is that to me, seeing Nike, Adidas, UA, etc. logos on jerseys constitute advertising every bit as much as a KIA logo on a jersey does.

    Or really, I’m just saying that sports uniforms in the pro and college level have ceased being ad-free long ago, so I find it a little odd that you’re making it seem like the NBA ad patch is venturing into new territory.

    For the record, I’m with you that I’d love to see both ads and maker’s marks done away with.

    If you see no substantive distinction, either visually or morally, between a Majestic logo on an MLB sleeve and a Kia patch on the chest of an NBA jersey, that’s certainly your prerogative.

    I happen to disagree. I suspect most others would as well.

    Perhaps you see the distinction because people have been conditioned to accept maker’s marks as a “legitimate” part of the design of the uniform while the advertising patch seems “foreign”.

    But if you bought an Armani suit to wear to the office or whatever you would not expect there to be an Armani logo stitched to the lapel of your jacket.

    One more time: I’ve been opposed to makers’ marks for more than a decade.

    If you’re saying that the distinction is one of degree, not of kind, I can see that. But the degree is a significant degree.

    If you’re saying that the distinction is one of degree, not of kind, I can see that. But the degree is a significant degree.

    At a gut level, I completely agree. But the more I try to come up with a reasonable argument to defend the assertion that they’re significantly different, the less I am convinced that they’re different at all. In each case, a company has paid the league or a team money in order to have a small company logo placed on the uniform as an advertisement. It’s not a manufacturing accident that Majestic’s logo appears on the sleeves of uniforms; Majestic pays MLB an estimated $125 million per year to ensure that its logo appears on those sleeves. That’s an advertisement.

    Of course, I’m old enough that when I was a kid, my folks wouldn’t buy me trendy shirts that had corporate logos like a little alligator or the Coca-Cola script precisely because they believed it was absurd to pay money to have someone else advertise on your clothes. For them, and for anyone raised before the 1970s, it was not normal to see maker’s marks on the outside of a garment. So the mark “read” as an ad. Now that we’re inured to the practice by thirty years of clothiers selling us on the notion that a maker’s mark is a fashionable adornment, we tend not to recognize maker’s marks as the advertisements they are.

    Still, although I’m having a hard time coming up with a categorical approach that differentiates maker’s marks from other advertising, on a purely aesthetic level I mind maker’s marks only a little bit, and usually as a matter of degree, while I find other advertising to be repulsive.

    The Boston Marathon recognition of 50 years of women is interesting.

    The first women to run the race were Bobbi Gibb in 1966 and Kathrine Switzer in 1967. Women were not allowed to run the race in those days, and the efforts of the race organizers to take Switzer’s bib away and prevent her from running led to what is (IMO) one of the greatest photos in sports history.


    The Boston Marathon didn’t recognize the first women’s champions (retroactively) until 1996.

    I saw Switzer speak a few years back and have her book. Its an amazing story what those women went through and there are parallels to Jackie Robinson’s story that are at least worth thinking about.

    I think the best example of a sponservisement having an effect on me is the Philadelphia union, they have such nice jerseys, but then there’s that big bimbo logo on the jersey, no way id wear that.

    I’m surprised to see the New Era cap so different from the actual Astros prototype, which had a completely white crown while New Era’s version is navy except the front two panels, which are white. And for me, that’s a big deal, I have a real fondness for white caps, going back to the Reds of the late ’50s / early ’60s but have never liked those white panels in front, which just for me have the feel of mesh trucker’s hats rather than true baseball caps. Part of it is probably the fact that white caps have been a part of baseball from just about the beginning, but I don’t those white front panels came along until the late ’60s / early ’70s, which to me makes them feel about as appropriate to the sport as “softball tops.”

    Light-colored caps are a bear to keep clean. I’d think twice before plunking my hard-earned scrip on a baseball cap that was high-maintenance. That said, I wonder how teams that opted for white-fronted hats in the ’70s would have looked with solid white caps. It’s no lie to say the hat establishes the tone for the entire uniform. Nothing affects a team’s appearance as much.

    The advertising discussion led me to once again wonder: Paul used to call out each new sponsor for the site, and the advertising here was tightly controlled. Then one day it exploded, and now Uni Watch is sandwiched by all the garbage ads you see on so many sites. When/why did that happen?

    I still call out new advertisers from time to time (did so last month, for example).

    Yes, there’s a lot of advertising on the site. That’s what happens when you give away your product for free. I would prefer to have no advertising at all and move to a paid-subscription model, but (a) that would be a financial hardship for many of you, and (b) many others of you have indicated that you simply aren’t willing to pay, even though it wouldn’t be a hardship (which is, of course, your prerogative).

    I wasn’t trying to troll or make a “you’re a hypocrite” comment—I get it. I was just curious about it because for awhile the ads were so carefully curated. It’s definitely more than a fair trade-off for the free content you give us.

    Basically, more and more ad networks wanted to work with us. We haven’t said yes to all of them (I turn down offers nearly every day), but we said yes to some.

    I’m much happier when we get an independent advertiser who approaches us separately — not as part of an ad-serving network — because that usually means it’s someone who likes what we do and has established a relationship. American Trench is a good example, and also Grey Flannel Auctions when we periodically work with them. Even NASCAR, interestingly enough, falls into this category — good people there, and I enjoy having the ad that links to their Paint Scheme Preview page each week. Those ads are created specifically for us.

    And if sports went free with their streaming, I have to say I would probably have less to complain about with all the advertising.

    I guess it was almost a matter of time that “this” comment would come from someone, eventually [again].

    It’s really not that hard to understand why there’s advertising on UW. It makes 100% sense (cents, ha!). If I could be a “blogger” like Paul with advertising and/or ESPN to help supplement things…sure then I’d do it!

    I don’t mind the ads, but I for one find that “News” sidebar pretty worthless. All it does is go to an aggregator page, and a lot of what it gives is clickbait garbage anyway.

    Hey Mike:

    Where do the Narwhals play? I’m from the NW side….just wondering….

    Not to put his business out there, but I believe Eric is a Park Ridge guy.

    From the Fan Relations reply letter:

    “We believe that jersey sponsorships will more deeply engage our partners…”

    More deeply engage? Putting ads on the jerseys is bad enough, but to send that letter (with that phrase) is a slap in the face to the fans of the NBA.

    It’s about money. There’s nothing behind this move other than money. I really wish the league would just be honest with the decision rather than trying to fool the fans (whom already know the reasoning).

    I was disappointing to hear the NBA voted to go ahead with the ads, but this response (especially the sentence quoted above) just pissed me off. “Deeply engaged”…you have go to be fucking kidding!

    Brinke’s link featuring the NL Green Book and AL Red Book bring back memories of how much joy I got from those books! I bought the NL book for three years straight, 1979-1981 and read them cover to cover each year. The wealth of info in those books was amazing and pretty much unavailable to a regular fan back then outside of those books. The eBay listing is incorrect in stating they were unavailable to the public. While they were not available in regular bookstores back then, I was able to buy mine like any other fan attending California Angels or LA Dodgers home games. They were stocked right next to Yearbooks and Media Guides and the stadium souvenir shops.

    Sure you could buy the Green and Ted Books in bookstores; that’s where I got mine back then.

    Just an observation from an interesting “in between” case. In New Zealand, all rugby is run by the NZRU. That entity pays the All Blacks, their five pro club teams, the 14 semi-pro provincial teams, and regulates all levels below including children’s rugby. So when Adidas or AIG pumps millions into the NZRU its kind of a both/and. Sure, some of the cash goes into the pockets of athletes making biggish salaries (though nobody in NZ make $1 million to play) and there are some private equity folks in the club teams getting a boost. But ultimately, some of that cash allows the NZRU to make larger distributions to the more grassroots part of the apparatus too. It isn’t a closed system, so $1 of Adidas money in an All Black salary frees up the previous dollar there to float back down to youth levels. Just an interesting situation of it being a little of both worlds.

    Very interesting to get your take on the issue of advertisers vs. sponsors. I hadn’t thought that deeply about the terms, but I agree that it’s an important distinction to make.

    I wonder if the blurring of the lines doesn’t have a lot to do with the history of television and radio broadcasting. In the days of national radio programs, and the early days of TV, it was typical for a show to have a true sponsor–one company which provided the funding for the show in exchange for prominent placement in it. A famous example was Milton Berle’s show, the most popular during the time that TV really entered America’s homes; it was, of course, called Texaco Star Theater, complete with dancing service station employees (“tonight we may be showmen, tomorrow we’ll be servicing your cars!”). Now, if at the peak of the show’s popularity, Texaco had for some reason withdrawn its support, undoubtedly a new sponsor would have been found, but it took Texaco’s involvement to get the show on the air in the first place. Similarly, to this day serialized dramas are known as “soap operas” because they were often presented by Proctor & Gamble, and in some cases that company actually was producing the shows. So when the phrase “and now a word from our sponsor” became part of the lexicon, it was accurate.

    Over time, the networks (I’m thinking because they didn’t want to share control of their shows with another company) moved to a model where there were multiple companies advertising on the same program–I’ve watched just about every episode of the original run of What’s My Line, and while early ones were presented exclusively by Stopette deodorant spray, eventually they would have a main sponsor and an “alternate sponsor” who would get one ad break in the show. (Incidentally, Stopette apparently was ultimately driven out of business because the cost of the show increased with its popularity, and its owner did not want to share its sponsorship!) So I’m hypothesizing that it’s this gradual move from a true sponsorship model to a more open advertising model that led to the blurring of the distinction, as the “our sponsor” tag remained entrenched even as it became less and less accurate.

    Last sunday, Orix Buffaloes 3rd uni with Seibu Lions away uni caused navy vs navy. They are almost identical.

    They should have made a gold or red alternate like they did a few years ago. I really liked the link.

    I don’t have a problem with jersey sponsorship or jersey advertisements. Using soccer as the example we can see instances where this has turned out poorly (bad design, nexus, etc leads to people not wanting to buy or wear the uni) and instances when it has become intrinsic to the uni and look (probably harder to find, but many that at least blend in – Man U does a good job with this, in general). Done correctly and tastefully, I don’t have a problem. The NBA, and all other sports leagues for that matter, are corporate money-making enterprises and I for one don’t have a problem with them behaving that way. If I don’t like the product, I won’t buy/watch it. For me, it is not about the idea of the ad, but about the design of the ad.

    This is a difference of personality. I find ads way too distracting; and ad space is literally sold to trade on my attention, conscious or unconscious, so I don’t think it’s too odd. The argument for jersey ads (and in-game promos, and stadium ads, and digitally-inserted pseudo-stadium ads) is that they don’t interfere with the information of the game — who is doing what, winning/losing. Fine. But obviously the sports we love are more than just the skeletal information, and having bit by bit of the ambiance of the sport sold to the highest bidders is unfortunate to me. If I just cared about the information, I can just rely on updates to my phone.

    That said, I envy those who don’t have a problem with it.

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