All sorts of people read Uni Watch. One of them happens to be a corporate CEO, who emailed me a nice fan letter a few years ago and has sporadically stayed in touch since then.
The CEO recently informed me of an interesting development: A bunch of NBA teams have been trying to convince him to become their new uniform advertiser.
This sounded like a great opportunity to learn more about the advertising/sponsorship side of things, so I asked the CEO if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. He agreed, on the condition that I not identify him or his company.
We spoke yesterday morning. Here’s a condensed transcript of our conversation:
Uni Watch: Just for some quick background on you, when did you first get into sports and into uniforms?
CEO: Oh, my gosh, since I was a kid. I’ve always been into uniforms, stadiums, that kind of thing. And I’ve been reading Uni Watch since pretty much the beginning, religiously.
UW: Thank you! Of course, we’re trying to keep you and your company anonymous. But would it be fair to say that you’re the CEO of a major lifestyle brand?
UW: I know your company is privately held, but just to give people a ballpark sense of how big your operation is, I’ve seen estimates that your company’s annual revenue exceeds $100 million. Is that accurate?
UW: What are your principal forms of advertising and marketing?
CEO: Pretty much as you’d expect in any retail business. A lot of digital and social. A lot of television now, actually. But but still, you know, primarily Instagram, Facebook, Google AdWords, that kind of thing in recent years.
UW: To what extent, if any, has your company advertised in the sports realm? Like, have you run ads during game broadcasts, or had ads had posted in stadiums or on team websites, anything along those lines?
CEO: We’ve done a lot of in-broadcast television and radio. And then we’ve also advertised quite a bit on sports talk radio.
UW: Let’s talk a little about the NBA uniform advertising program. When it was first announced in 2016, did you consider partnering with a team? Or did any teams approach you?
CEO: I wasn’t approached, I didn’t consider it, and I probably wouldn’t have at the time. As much as I understand European soccer and the way uniform advertising is integrated, it just never made that much sense in the NBA to me, to be perfectly honest.
UW: Why did it not make sense to you?
CEO: Just how small [the ad patch] was. And and the fact that, you know, it’s fairly controversial. And I think oftentimes, you have to think of the fact that if you’re if you’re sponsoring something that has never been sponsored before, is there going to be blowback. And I think if you look at the advertisers that jumped in early, my guess is that there were a lot of companies feeling that way. You know, Chase has an unbelievably deep relationship with Madison Square Garden and the Knicks, and I’m sure they had the first look, yet they elected not to advertise on the Knicks’ jersey.
UW: The NBA program was originally announced as a three-season pilot program. And then at some point, they decided it was a success, so they made it permanent. If the season hadn’t been suspended, we’d now be nearing the end of that original three-season commitment. What, if anything, have you been hearing regarding how satisfied the teams are, how satisfied the advertisers are, and so on?
CEO: One of the things is that you’re seeing a lot of turnover in the advertisers. And I’m basing that on how many teams are now fairly aggressively in the market for new uniform sponsors — not just approaching me, but I know it’s also similar-sized and larger companies. The first lesson in sponsorship is trying to figure out why someone’s not renewing. If it’s working, you don’t walk away from it.
UW: So does that tell you that the sponsors were not satisfied, or thought that the deals were too expensive, or what?
CEO: It’s hard to say. I mean, to be honest, they’re very expensive. I was floored by the expense and the cost. And if you look at that, you have to compare this with any type of media sponsorship, which is really what it is. I think there are a lot of factors to think about, like how many national broadcasts does a team get? What sort of visibility do they have? How many replica jerseys are they selling?
So a few years ago you might have sponsored a team and you look at their three-year forecast and you say to yourself, “Yeah, I don’t know, it doesn’t look that great for them.” They don’t have a big player or they lost their big players and suddenly the value drops. Again, using European soccer as an example, especially with the bigger teams, the turnover is generally not that great, and the terms of the deals are much longer.
UW: Based on what you’ve previously told me, at least five NBA teams have approached you recently. Is that right?
CEO: It’s now up to six.
UW: Wow. And I was interested to hear that most of those teams were not located anywhere near where your company is headquartered, which was surprising, because most of these NBA deals have had some sort of local or regional connection.
CEO: That’s true.
UW: How many of those overtures were made to you before mid-March, when the country basically shut down?
CEO: All except one were before.
UW: Okay, so these teams didn’t reach out to you because the deck has been reshuffled by the pandemic or anything like that — they contacted you when everything was still business as usual.
UW: And how have you responded to these overtures?
CEO: You’d be foolish not to at least have the conversation and hear about the offer, right? What’s been surprising is the remarkable amount of consistency from team to team in terms of their asking prices. And again, I don’t know if that is because they’re getting guidance from the league, or they’re, you know, in terms of some sort of price control. Like, if all of a sudden the Brooklyn Nets say, “Listen, we’ve just got to get someone on here and we’ll do it for a third of what everybody else is charging,” what does that do to the market? I have to imagine there’s some discussion. Obviously, the Warriors and Lakers are asking for an order of magnitude more, and then everybody else seems to be kind of in the same ballpark.
[In a separate communiqué, the CEO told me that most of the teams were asking for something in the $10-$13 million range. For context, he said being “the official ‘x’ of the NBA or NFL” is more in the $2-$5 million range, or possibly a broader range than that. — PL]
UW: Have these discussions been in person, over the phone, or just by email? And have you handled the discussions yourself, or have you had surrogates handling it?
CEO: I’ve done it myself because, honestly, I think my marketing team would laugh at me if I took this as a serious opportunity. I was more curious than anything else. I’ve had a few Skype calls or Zoom calls. But initially, there were a couple of in-person meetings where they actually came out to meet with us, take us through the opportunity.
UW: Did they have mock-ups of how their uniform would look with your logo on it?
CEO: Yeah. But they actually used an old logo that we haven’t used for four years. So real good-quality work there.
UW [laughing]: Aside from that, did you get a little rush of excitement seeing your logo on an NBA uniform?
CEO: Sure. I mean, the concept is really cool, right? As a fan of sports and especially as an entrepreneur — I mean, you’re an entrepreneur yourself, so you know how you’re constantly hoping that one day you “arrive,” but inevitably, we’ll never be satisfied with where we are, so we never actually arrive. But it’s that glimpse of, like, wow, I could have my logo on there and then, you know, then I’m really going to be justified in my life.
UW: Have you given serious consideration to going ahead with it?
CEO: No, not at those prices.
UW: What sorts of things does a sponsor get besides having its logo worn on the uniform? Like what sorts of perks or things that go beyond the on-court presence were discussed or offered?
CEO: They start with the things that are obviously more or less free to them. And you understand that a lot of sponsorships, especially with sports teams, are driven less by the media value and more by the ego value, right? So they’re offering suites, front-row tickets to all the games, and that kind of stuff that they can sort of give away. Also in-arena programming and signage, and so they try to put it together as part of an overall media package.
UW: If half a dozen teams are approaching a company like yours, do you think that indicates anything in particular from a trend-analysis standpoint? Or does it just mean everybody’s passing around the same list of potential corporate partners, and you happen to be on the list?
CEO: When you’re trying to sell sponsorships, you start with the biggest companies, especially in your own market, right? So when you get down to companies that are are doing $100 million, $200 million in revenue, that means you’ve already burned through pretty much everybody logical that’s larger.
UW: So you’re not quite saying your company is the bottom of the barrel, but you’re saying that if the sponsorship program was going well, you wouldn’t have been the first name at the top of the list either.
CEO: Look, if you’re in Detroit, and you’re calling me before you called Ford, somebody should get fired.
UW: I’ve heard a lot of people say that the pandemic will lead to more uniform advertising and other new forms of corporate sponsors, because teams will be desperate to make up for lost revenue. But it seems to me that all the potential advertisers and sponsors will be facing financial challenges of their own, and will probably be cutting back on their own marketing budgets, especially since so many consumers are out of work or at least cutting down on spending because the future is so uncertain, which means advertising probably won’t provide the same kind of ROI that it did in the past, so we could actually see a decrease in sports sponsorships. What’s your take on that? How the pandemic will affect this aspect of sports?
CEO: Well, I think you have to look at it in the total context of advertising. One of the things you’ll see anytime there’s an economic pullback is that the price of advertising goes down. You’ve probably seen that yourself in digital publishing. So unless you start seeing major price elasticity or movement on the sponsorship deals, invariably those will tend to go unsold or struggle. But the teams may be thinking, “Alright, things might not be good this year, but they’ll be better next year, so we’ll hold the price and just ride it out.”
From an advertiser standpoint, or from a brand standpoint, when times get tough, your level of scrutiny on every dollar out the door gets more and more focused. You get super, super-tight on it. So if I know that my TV commercial is going to cost me X and make me Y, then that’s a very certain thing. But when you start thinking about a patch on a uniform, that’s much more about keeping your brand top-of-mind for people. It’s a high-level awareness, but it’s harder to quantify. So when you’re a business, in a climate like this, you need to see performance right away.
Budweiser, Pepsi, Coke, those kinds of brands, they may need to just maintain top-of-mind awareness. But when you start thinking about brands that are in the business of retailing things — and that could be everything from a car down to a T-shirt — the further you get away from sales performance, the harder it is to justify.
Well. Obviously, this is only one CEO, but the takeaway from his commentary is that things don’t necessarily look too good for the NBA’s uni advertising program. Here’s hoping he’s right.
Click to enlarge
Chalk talk, continued: Remember how Dodgers design director Ross Yoshida and his kids did such a great job drawing all of the National League cap logos? Now they’ve added the American League logos! You can see a bunch of in-progress photos by scrolling through Ross’s Twitter feed.
Click to enlarge
Too good for the Ticker: One nice thing about the pandemic is that teams and schools are digging into their archives and coming up with all sorts of fun photos. Case in point: this completely amazing USF baseball photo from 1982.
Obviously, I love the color scheme. But I also love the white jersey designs, the absurd green-over-pinstriped-green uni in the middle, and of course the PILLBOX CAPS! My compliments to the chef.
Incidentally, that gent in the center is former Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts, who was USF’s coach at the time.
(Major thanks to Josh Sandin for bringing this one to my attention.)
Culinary Corner: Yesterday’s entry about Hal the Hot Dog Guy got me hankerin’ for a frank. But instead of my usual caper dog, I decided to try something different: scallions and toasted panko breadcrumbs (and mustard, of course). So good!
The toasted breadcrumbs, incidentally, are a new obsession of mine. They’re good on almost anything! I’ll have more to say about that soon.
Membership update: Eight more designs have been added to the membership card gallery. That includes Craig Sinclair’s card, which is based on the 1970s Harlequin rugby union jersey — a brilliant request!
Ordering a membership card is a good way to support Uni Watch (which, frankly, could use your support these days). And remember, as a gesture of comm-uni-ty solidarity, the price of a membership has been reduced from $25 to $20 until further notice.
By Anthony Emerson
Baseball News: Here is a fantastic 1992 video of Expos P Dennis Martínez and OF Larry Walker at the unveiling ceremony for the team’s then-new uniforms. Still some of my favorite unis in MLB history. The voice-over refers to the famous Expos tri-color hat as “hideous,” to which we at Uni Watch say, “Agree to disagree.” … Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the one time the Tigers wore an alternate jersey, outside of special events mandated by the league (from Jerry Nitzh). … Andrew Hoenig’s wife is sewing baseball-themed masks for the use of their family and friends. … Rick Dalton sends along a ton of shots of his MLB-licensed childhood bedsheets, c. 1969. They even had matching curtains. … “According to a couple of different articles, KBO teams’ over-the-top, flamboyant mascots are creating a stir on social media among new American fans,” writes Kary Klismet.
Football News: As many readers pointed out, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted a doodle featuring Bucs QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski — wow, that sentence hurts — in unis they’ll never wear. ESPN did the same thing with a different graphic, but later posted a corrected version of the Schefter graphic. This could’ve been forgivable if this tweet was from like a month or so ago, but the Bucs unis were launched on April 9. They’ve been out for a month! … On a similar note, ESPN Photoshopped Tom Brady into his new duds pretty well, but did a half-assed job on Gronk — that’s clearly a Pats helmet and an old Bucs practice jersey (from Timmy Donahue). … The graphic mishaps continued with the NFL tweeting a Thanksgiving Day schedule featuring a Steelers helmet with the logo on the left side, which is blank in real life (from Brian Cox). … The Bengals tweeted a graphic of their 2020 schedule featuring DE Sam Hubbard in a 2019 jersey, featuring the NFL100 collar patch (from @wilysnowpena). … Apparently Jets QB Sam Darnold plays better when his team goes mono. Darnold, of course, had mono last season, so there you go (from Jaden Daly). … Also posted in the soccer section: The CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats have teamed up with the Canadian Premier League’s Hamilton Forge FC to sell “Hamilton Proud” masks with proceeds going to Food4Kids Hamilton (from Wade Heidt and @robfromsasky).
Hockey News: Penguins G Michel Dion, who played for the Pens from 1981-1985, had a very unique and slightly unnerving mask. “The Penguin appears to be hand-painted,” writes Brandon Weir. “I’m not sure what this ‘beak’ is for, perhaps to deflect the impact of a puck away from the face?” A nice theory, but my first instinct was it might be to improve his breathing. Either way, it reminds me of a plague doctor mask. … The Ducks tweeted a series of pictures of a 2006 game against the Avalanche featuring Joe DiPenta and Ilya Bryzgalov in Reebok jerseys and Scott Niedermayer in a Koho jersey (from Louis, who didn’t give his last name). … Tom V. sent us this picture of ELO drummer Bev Bevan wearing a Sabres sweater. “If the album on Jeff Lynne’s shirt was current, this would be from around ’77 or ’78,” writes Tom. … The NAHL’s St. Cloud Blizzard are now the St. Cloud Norsemen (from Timmy Donahue).
NBA News: Grizzlies PF/C Jaren Jackson Jr. is calling for his team to bring back the white Vancouver Grizzlies unis, having already brought back the teal version this past season (from Wade Heidt). … A graphic designer has mashed up Australian Football League logos and NBA logos (from Kary Klismet). … A Chris Paul superfan made a happy birthday message for the Thunder PG out of Paul’s own jerseys (from Derek House). … The Sixers are polling fans on their next shooting shirt.
Soccer News: Tottenham Hotspur have written about the “untold story” behind their green 2018-19 Champions League kit. The kit was worn only eight times but became iconic as Spurs made the Champions League Final (from Mike Horowitz). … USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive FC have revealed their 2020 Noche de Locos kit (from Josh Hinton). … Cross-listed from the football section: The CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats have teamed up with the Canadian Premier League’s Hamilton Forge FC to sell “Hamilton Proud” masks with proceeds going to Food4Kids Hamilton (from Wade Heidt and @robfromsasky). … FIFA 20’s Ultimate Team mode, which Jamie wrote about a few days ago, is launching a series of retro kits (from Steve Kriske).
Grab Bag: Truman State University in Missouri has unveiled new athletics logos. Here’s the launch video (from multiple readers). … The Sporting News has done a retrospective on five former Canadian mascots (from Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary, the Scott Sports Racing Team has unveiled new mountain bike cycling uniforms made of 100% recycled materials. … Ohio’s official “reopening” logo is completely atrocious. Does the economic reopening even need a logo? (From David Sonny.) … Alabama has a new license plate design, paying homage to the state’s fishers (from Timmy Donahue).
Click to enlarge
What Paul did last night: Warm-ish and sunny yesterday, so it was really pleasant out on the porch. While we were out there, our UPS guy showed up with a big Boxed order that the Tugboat Captain had made — lots of seltzer for her (she’s a seltzer addict the way I’m a Diet Coke addict) and also lots of snacks and treats for the house.
We love our UPS guy, who has remained his unfailingly cheerful self throughout the pandemic. When the Captain saw his truck pulling up, she ran inside and came back with one of the cloth masks she’s been sewing for friends and family. “Here,” she said as he brought over the Boxed boxes on his hand truck, “for you. Or if you have enough of them, give it to someone else who needs it.”
The branch is still there.
As always, you can see the full set of Pandemic Porch Cocktails™ photos here.