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What We Talk About When We Talk About Uniform Ads

As we all know by now, I hate when a uniform advertiser is referred to as a “patch partner,” or a “jersey partner,” or a “jersey entitlement partner,” or similar nonsense terms. It’s bad enough when teams do this, as the Astros did yesterday (see above), but what really gets me is when journalists and media outlets parrot this same newspeak. Shouldn’t they know better? Are they just toadying in order to preserve their access? Are they just lazy?

So yesterday I decided to be more proactive and ask some reporters about how they handled the language of the Astros’ uniform ad. My method was admittedly unscientific: First, I Twitter-searched for reporters and media outlets that tweeted about Houston’s new ad patch. If they didn’t refer to the ad as an ad, or to the advertiser as an advertiser, I DM’d them to ask why. I used this basic form letter:

Hey! Paul from Uni Watch here. I’m working on a piece about the language surrounding the new MLB ad patches.

With that in mind, I’m curious about why you chose to use the term “patch partner” [or whatever the person tweeted] in your tweet today about the Astros, instead of “advertiser” or “patch advertiser” or some other construction based on advertising.

Any insights you can provide would be welcome and appreciated. Thanks!

I also included the URL of their tweet, so they could see what I was referring to.

This experiment didn’t end up generating as much dialogue as I had hoped, in part because several of the reporters in question have their DMs closed (which seems nuts for a reporter, but that’s a separate issue). Still, it was an interesting exercise. Here are the tweets in question and the responses to my inquiries:

Response: “Oh honestly no idea haha. Just thought that was the best way to explain 🤣”


Response: Did not respond.


Response: “Hi, Paul. I didn’t write that tweet. It’s autotweeted off an RSS feed and takes the headline from the story. Matt Young, the guy who wrote the story, can probably best answer your questions. Hope that helps.”


Response: “Hey, Paul. I use the Google Trends site. It allows you to compare different words or phrases and see which ones people Google the most often. So I tested a few and ‘jersey patch’ came out ahead of ‘uniform patch’ and ‘ad patch’ (and a few others I tried). Definitely not scientific, but it’s what I use when I’m unsure what people are calling something. This is one I could definitely see changing since it’s so new.”


Response: DMs not open.


Response: DMs not open.


Response: DMs not open.


Obviously, the most interesting response was from Matt Young, who’s basically using his choice of wording as a form of SEO — a fascinating answer that I didn’t anticipate. It’s a bit troubling, though, because (a) it essentially creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop, where an inaccurate phrase becomes entrenched, and (b) it cedes the initiative to the teams, because a team will always be the first party to describe its own ad patch, so the team can basically use absurd corporatespeak that immediately becomes established as the default. Hmmmmm.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that some reporters — including my buddy Chris Creamer — used more accurate verbiage:

Kudos to those three guys. Here’s hoping more reporters follow their lead.

Comments (49)

    “Inaugural patch partner”. Sounds like something they expect fans to celebrate. Maybe OXY will be trimmed in gold on the 5th anniversary patch.

    From what I have seen teams absolutely use a tone in their announcements of this shit that fans should be excited about it. I can still remember my shock when the 76ers made their announcement about it, as the first NBA team to have an ad patch, with a video showing the teams’ mascots looking SUPER excited about it like it was just SO cool. I knew that obviously they would spin it positively but I was not expecting to be that brazen about it. Teams by and large seem to have followed that lead which is incredibly dystopian and sad imo.

    Thanks for the insight / research on this!
    If am understanding Matt Young’s response correctly, he is essentially saying that because the press releases are calling it this, and thus that is the results google would first turn up since the press releases are the breaking news, he takes that to be the correct terminology, and then propagates it? Is that correct?
    If so I can see how that would make sense in a lot of scenarios, but common sense dictates this is an ad, and as a reporter with understanding of what ads are, he shouldn’t even need to virtually crowdsource what to call this.

    My take was he was checking to see what phrase people searched on so his article would get more hits in a Google search by anyone.
    Entirely mercenary.

    I work in TV news. We get tons of police press releases that say “struck by a bullet” or “fled on foot” or “east into a wooded area.”

    So, he was shot, and ran away into the woods?

    Just because a press release says it doesn’t mean you have to repeat it.

    This would be an interesting subject to dig into a bit more.

    As to the DMs not being open, as someone who was (briefly) a major league beat writer when Twitter was just beginning to rule the earth, I totally understand that. There’s a point between writing stories, blog posts, Tweeting, managing Facebook posts, and perhaps doing radio hits, where you have to say “I have no more time.”

    I get it. But as a very busy reporter with very little free time myself, I nonetheless always want to make it easy for potential sources to contact me.

    Sure, but the companies advertising on professional kits are not “sponsoring the kit,” i.e., providing the kits because the team needs someone to pony up for uniforms. That’s where UniWatch has been consistent in covering and correcting the terminology. The professional kits have advertisements that are paid for in the millions of dollars. They may be sponsoring the clubs in a way, but they are doing so by placing a big ol’ ad on the shirts. Calling it an advertisement fits better than a sponsorship.

    Furthermore, a sponsorship would imply the team needs said sponsorship because it doesn’t generate revenue, or at the very least doesn’t turn a profit if it even has other income sources to fund its operation. Professional sports leagues obviously make absurd levels of revenue and profit from merchandise, tickets, and media deals. If you are able to afford to pay your players in the tens of millions of dollars, you clearly don’t have a revenue problem which would necessitate sponsorships.
    At the end of the day uniform ads remove the last vestige of pro sports being any sort of civic institution, and turns them purely into a business. If the teams exist as some sort of civic and community institution, it is primarily through their teams colors and uniform, after all, the players and coaches change, you are rooting for whomever is wearing the home town colors. To me, once you taint those colors with ads, you now simply are the franchise of a billion dollar industry that operates in a few dozen metro areas in the country.

    “pro sports being any sort of civic institution, and turns them purely into a business”. Isn’t that the definition of ‘pro sports’? I think athletes stopped being community volunteers a long, long time ago. I guess that’s why High School football is big here in Texas. But no one expects Micah Parson’s of the Cowboys to be part of the ‘Community’. It’s a metro area of over 5 million people.

    Mr. Young’s response reminded me of an episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” when, if memory serves, Venus Flytrap pushed back against “playing the hits.” The episode later showed with him having a nightmare of working at the station, now run completely by computers.

    Disturbing on so many levels. Disheartening, too.


    The sports reporters in my city are mouthpieces for the teams. Any straying from the corporate line, is extremely rare.

    Its in part because they rely on access to the teams for interviews and content (they can’t afford to be cut off by the team), and because all of the work for broadcast partners of the teams or leagues.

    Our local team (Flames) are trying to get an arena built – usual stuff. Its constant stories about how great arenas are, how the current arena might be unsafe, how the mayor is awful for opposing spending a gazillion dollars on the arena. No critical analysis at all in the news, just press releases.

    One of the reasons I love this site is because its independent journalism. For the most part, independent sports journalism is dead. They reprint team press releases and (if we’re lucky) write opinion pieces that shill for team management.

    Anyway, not shocked in the slightest.

    When you think about it, isn’t the entire jersey an advertisement — if not for Oxy then for the Astros? In the modern age jerseys, and caps, and whatever else, are designed, partly if not primarily, to sell merchandise. I guess I could appreciate the outrage in an earlier era, when the jerseys were solely a means to identify who played on which team but that went out the window at least a couple of decades ago. Why, for example, did the Padres switch back to brown? Because their fans wanted it because they wanted to purchase Padres gear in those colors. So, even though the owner was on record in saying he hated the brown and yellow he gave in. Why? To move product. I think we should analyze every uniform choice made today with a healthy dose of cynicism because very few of the decisions are made purely for aesthetic reasons. They’re largely made with branding and marketing in mind. Given this, I don’t see what adding OXY to their uniforms does to sully them. They’re already sullied.

    Teams need (and are required to wear) uniforms. It’s that simple. They’re not doing so to move product.

    Now alternates…that’s another story. No team “needs” an alternate. You could argue these are created to sell more product. Pretty much every NBA jersey that isn’t a home/road was created with the retail end in mind.

    But to say the “entire jersey is an advertisement” is not factually correct. The uniform is required to identify the team playing. That is its sole purpose. If the Padres didn’t wear brown and gold, then they’d wear blue and white, or some secondary color. But to say the team changed (back) to brown/gold simply to “more product” is ridiculous on its face. If you want to argue alternates are created to move merch, I’ll agree with you. Home/road. Nope.

    Dunno. Yes, they need the unis to identify themselves but we’re well past the era where that was the primary point. That’s why they have all of the alternates, as you note. If you want to draw a distinction between the primaries and the alternates I guess I see what you’re saying (nobody needs an alternate) but what’s the primary and what’s the alternate at this point? Teams used to wear white at home and their colored jersey on the road but that’s out the window in all sports outside of baseball. Why? Because of marketing. There’s no other reason for that. In that sense, it’s all advertising and all marketing. Baseball lags a bit here, of course, but nowadays when you turn on an NBA game do you know who is playing by looking at the uniforms? Not always, and not even often, I’d say. So if the goal is to identify who is playing, then those NBA uniforms fail the test. MLB doesn’t fail, at least as of this moment in time. But they’re headed in that direction, without a doubt.

    “But to say the team changed (back) to brown/gold simply to “move product” is ridiculous on its face.”

    Most assuredly the Padres changed from Blue & white to brown & yellow to move MORE product. I don’t see how that can be argued. I must be missing your point.


    I too am confused as to why Phil would say that notion is ridiculous. If uniforms are purely functional, why would they ever change, especially from a design standpoint?

    By this logic, couldn’t one say that TV shows themselves? are just as much advertisements as the commercials that air during them? The difference seems obvious to me – you come to watch the show because you like the show – the commercials are there to play off your attention to the show. The jersey is an element of the product itself (the team). The ad is taking advantage of your attachment to the team.

    “The ad is taking advantage of your attachment to the team.”

    There it is. Crystal clear.


    On broadcast television the shows are 100% advertisements. They’re there to get you to watch the commercials that break them up. They’re there for the advertising dollars. Of course, you’re not going to stick around if you don’t like the show so they (or at least some of them) try to make them somewhat entertaining. But they’re not on TV merely because people like to watch things on TV. They’re on TV because that’s where the captive audience is, who will buy the products that support the shows. It’s a loop. A byproduct of which is that every once in a while there’s something actually good on. And, BTW, sometimes they’re overt advertisements, such as when product placement is used. At other times, they’re there to suggest a certain lifestyle or attitude that the products that are pitched during the breaks more concretely sell. But the shows, themselves, are pitching something to their audience.

    So the news is 100% adverts? What about the SOTU (which was conspicuously ad-free)? C’mon man. Think harder.

    The news is an interesting thing. Traditionally, no, it was considered a public service. And the SOTU is a remnant of that. But what do you think Fox News is? or CNN, for that matter, or MSNBC? They’re catering to their consumers. Have you ever spoken to Phil Griffin — former head of MSNBC? I have. He’s all about the ratings. That’s it. When he was in charge of the network is was all about the numbers. He was not in the game for public service. Which would come as a shock to many MSNBC viewers (of which I count myself), who view the network to be something of a public trust — a corrective to Fox News. It might be that. But that’s not why it exists and is on your cable system.

    I have to be honest, it feels a little insulting when 150+ words of well-reasoned analysis with maybe one tiny detail that could have been worded marginally better gets dismissed with two lines and “Think harder”.

    This kind of dismissiveness is far too commonplace in the uni-watching world, and it’s a real shame because there’s so much potential for open-minded conversation that does, in fact, involve thinking hard.

    Sure, every show has a message, and every show is a reflection of its own cultural zeitgeist, but those are just innate qualities of stories. In fact, many ads are also stories. If all stories are ads, and all ads are stories, would your solution be to just do away with stories all together?

    I think it’s less of a question of “what is an ad” and more of a question of “how intrusive is the corporate backing?” and “what is the least intrusive way of funding our entertainment?”

    With the the dawn of the DVR, and the rise of ad-free subscriptions, and even crowd-funded stories, people are preferring to enjoy those stories un-interrupted by more blatant forms of advertising like commercials, opting for a “pay up front” approach. People are attached to stories insofar as a they’re willing to pay to enjoy them uninterrupted by ads.

    Sports uniform advertising defies this concept, because users already pay up front, but are still presented with advertisement on jerseys during play. It’s akin to paying for Netflix and still having to watch advertisement between show segments. Corporate advertisers are intruding on consumers’ enjoyment, despite consumers’ willingness to fund their projects independently.

    Patch Partners… reminds me of the old Friends episode where Matt LeBlanc’s character and Gary Oldman’s character are acting in a film together, and Gary Oldman is over emphasizing his “Ps”, thus spitting. They both end up spitting on each other over and over. “Who’s our Preferred Perfect Patch Partner???” (spit flying: seems fitting).

    In the main team store at Capital One Arena in DC, you can pay…. PAY… an extra $10 to have the Capitals’ “jersey partner” Caesar’s Sportsbook patch applied to the jersey you purchase there, and look “just like the players on the ice”.
    I know this isn’t unusual among teams adopting “jersey partners”, and will only grow.

    This was a great exercise, Paul. I do hope they give some though to how they frame things going forward to best serve the reader.

    I realize Paul is going to die on this hill, but a logo alone isn’t an advertisement. An advertisement also has some type of messaging. Without that element, it’s just a paid sponsorship. Paul isn’t going to convince other writers to use the term incorrectly.

    Paul’s issue is that he hates paid logos on uniforms so he won’t use a word like partnership with positive connotations. Can anyone think of a more accurate word than advertisement that will deliver Paul his negative connotation?

    As a fan, I also don’t like seeing uniforms sullied with extra logos. As a marketer, though, I can’t use the term advertising when it isn’t. If I told my boss I put an ad on a jersey when it was just a logo patch, he’d ask where the message is.

    It is not impossible that fans exist who are genuinely excited by the appearances of ads on uniforms, possibly because of the additional detail they provide. Just putting that out there.

    I love new football (soccer) kits that come out every year with new sponsors. It’s fun to see and collect. Some of the greats I remember for Real Madrid are Parmalat or Teka on the front, or watching my wife’s club, AS Roma with Barilla or INA. I think the team logo plastered really big on the front can actually be WORSE than a well designed corporate logo.

    THIS is the stuff I like… when someone does something, and then are asked (without being a dick about it) “Why did you choose to do it that way?”.



    All the time and energy that teams spend creating a visual identity and uniform, projecting all manner of absurd “meaning” to every single little detail, just to slap a 4×4 inch patch of an amateurish logo in colors that don’t even match on the sleeve. What a fucking embarrassment.
    Just wear a polo shirt with the corporate sponsor logo on the chest pocket. What’s the fucking difference at this point?

    I really don’t get the big deal. I guess as a soccer (football) fan growing up, it was just part of the landscape. As a matter of fact, I used to love the way my hometown team had the VW circle right in the middle of the Puebla FC jersey. The VW factory was in town, and it was a matter of pride.
    Today, as a Real Madrid fan, I love when we are in the top tier of advertisers, and we can look down at lesser teams that have silly ‘sponsors’. For example, nothing gave me more pleasure than watching the hideous Barcelona jersey with the Drake logo.

    You take pride in a giant corporation imposing itself on you? I’d posit that you need to reassess your values.

    Chris, “soccer” is better off without you. I’m sure you also love a Big Mac because all that fancy healthy food is a scourge.

    Where will it end?
    “He got him to swing at the Frank’s RedHot fastball. The count is 1 and 2. Will he throw the White Castle slider or X-Acto box cutter to finish him off?”

    Unlike the NBA, NHL, and NFL, the MLB isn’t a salary cap league. I don’t want to wade into the “are ads gross” debate, I think they are, others think they aren’t, and this ground is week trod above. I do want to suggest a potential new vein of analysis for Paul. In a salary capped league where teams operate in a relatively narrow band (narrowest in NHL at about 30m and widest in NFL at around 150m), it’s difficult for owners to plow ad revenue back into the team. It’s pure profit and it’d hard to see it otherwise in economic terms. Between the Mets and Oakland, however, is a 260m gap and owners can pay what they want for talent. They could argue this increased revenue can be turned into a new hire. Presumably fans would feel better about the ads if it makes, or they can be convinced it makes, their team more competitive on the field compared to their owner’s pockets heavier. Wonder if the patches get talked about differently across the four big North American leagues because of these differing salary structures.

    This might be true, except it is not just small market (and/or revenue) teams that will get ads to make them competitive with larger market teams. Rather, all teams will get ads, and if anything I would think large market teams would get more money for their ads. So lets just say New York usually has $150 mil to spend, and Cincinnati usually has $60 mil to spend. By the nature of both the size of their media market, AND their national exposure due to larger national fan bases and more nationally televised games, NY is going to get a better price for their unis ads. So now NY has their $150 mil + say $10 mil in ad revenue to spend, while Cincinnati gets $2 million added to their $60 mil, all this does is create inflation in the amount teams will spend on players, so Cincinnati is still priced out, and in this example, actually falls further behind NY in revenue available to spend on players, if ever so slightly, from 40% to 39%.

    Good (great) point. But you’re off on the numbers. Cinci just inked a deal (link) to receive $5 million/year. Boston (a smaller market than NY) will receive between $17-20 million/year (link). So the disparity between small and large-market teams will be even greater after the ads get factored in.

    Greg and Phil, you’re right. So we would expect, if the ad revenue is used to build rosters, for the disparity between club payrolls to increase at a rate more than the current. If I’m a Yankee or Mets fan, I’m as giddy as some of the big universities are about NIL deals. Oakland or Baltimore fan and I’m irritated as hell. But I don’t know if that reality translates into the way these ads are talked about in these silly pressers.

    I understand why Matt Young is interested in getting eyes on his tweet, but you could still use this phasing to get hits, but also include what it is, ADVERTISING!

    Kudos to Matt Young for answering the question, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him that the reason people are googling these marketing-speak terms might be that they have no idea what they mean and would like the press release translated into simple English. I.e., to say it’s an ad.

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