As I’ve mentioned numerous times over the past year or so, one of the contemporary uni-verse’s biggest ironies is that the NFL — the league that’s usually perceived to be the most corporate and the most greedy — is the last holdout among the Big Four pro leagues when it comes to uniform ads. And while there are several reasons for that, it appears that the primary bulwark against ad encroachment is none other than much-derided NFL commish Roger Goodell.
That news comes from an article published yesterday by Sports Business Journal’s Terry Lefton, who’s generally the most plugged-in and well-sourced of all the sports business journalists (and is also, it should be noted, usually a cheerleader for uni ads). Here’s the key passage:
After considerable investigation, [it] turns out that the important number when it comes to the possibility of NFL ad patches is not one of price or the amount of market oversaturation, but the length of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract, expected to be renewed soon. Team marketers say the commissioner is unalterably opposed to joining the patch parade.
“You tell me the year Roger Goodell’s contract ends and that’s the year ad patches will be allowed in this league,” said one longtime NFL team president. “So, not never, but close to that.”
Whatever else you may think of Goodell, this certainly elevates him above the likes of Adam Silver, Rob Manfred, and Gary Bettman, at least by Uni Watch standards.
There are also other factors in play here. Again, quoting from Lefton’s article:
“There’s no (NFL) revenue imperative pushing this,’’ said Elizabeth Lindsey, president of brands and properties at Wasserman, whose clients include NFL sponsors like Diageo, Gallo, Microsoft and Nationwide. “Normally, they (the NFL) come in last to anything new in the market, does it better, and charges more. Still, they’ve been talking to us about ‘protecting the shield’ for so long, I could believe they’ll be the league that won’t sell space on their uniforms.”
Many told me nothing will change at least until the end of the next NFL TV deals, most of which expire in 2033. Teams and rights holders would have to be cut in, and one scenario proposed to us had the rightsholders themselves selling uniform signage. That would be one way to prevent the internecine battles that invariably develop between teams, rights holders and the league over who controls any new camera-visible marketing assets.
“If you gave me an over/under of five years, I would bet big on the over,” said Jason Miller, head of properties at Excel Sports Management, currently in the market selling patches for the Dodgers and Hawks.
There’s a lot more in Lefton’s article, which I recommend reading in its entirety. But the upshot is that uni ads do not appear to be in the league’s plans for the foreseeable future, and that’s certainly good news.
For what it’s worth, this confirms what Jonathan Wright, the NFL’s Senior Director for Uniforms and On-Field Products, told me when I asked him about NFL uni ads during my interview with him last summer:
I’ve learned to never say never, but I don’t foresee it happening, at least not in the near future. I think we are proud of the fact that we have these clean uniforms. I personally am. Aesthetically, I don’t think it’s pleasing to the eye [to have ad patches], nor does it fit with a team’s brand. It just feels kind of wonky.
I would add that the NFL is also the only Big Four league that doesn’t currently have real and/or virtual ads on the field/court/ice/etc.
So let’s hear it for the NFL and Roger Goodell. For all their faults, uni-related and otherwise, they’re on the right side of what is arguably the most existential question of our uni times. Good for them.
Goodell is bad on many things, but at least this is right take.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
It’s not a realistic hope, but I do find myself hoping that when teams see how terrible ad patches look on uniforms that this will be rolled back. That all assumes that team owners and executives see uniforms through the same lens that fans do, but that seems unlikely.
I share that slim and probably misguided hope.
As Paul said, junk up the practice uniforms all you want. I have never seen any one wearing one outside of a player at practice, and there is a certain cache to being a league that keeps its uniforms from becoming billboards.
Things can be cyclical. In the ’20s through the ’40s (maybe later), MLB outfield walls were littered with all kinds of ads, as were the scoreboards. Then came decades of bare walls and scoreboards. The pendulum is swinging back towards ads, but maybe tastes will change again and we will see bare walls.
I’m only a casual NFL fan but someone clue me in, why does everyone actually hate Goodell? It seems everyone hates every Commissioner, and while I casually watch the NFL and NHL, the only sport I’m deep into enough to actually understand the arguments behind the hate (most of which I disagree with) is MLB.
So why do people actually hate Goodell because from what I can casually tell, the NFL is a really well run league that’s growing in international popularity.
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Ray Rice and ‘deflategate’ are two of many possible reasons to dislike Goodell.
Framegate was a travesty.
There are multiple reasons to dislike anyone. But in this one instance, I like his stance.
I named two instances. Which is the one you refer to?
He’s referring to Goodell’s “No Uni Ads” stance, not either of the two you mentioned.
I agree, Alex. Yes, Goodell is stiff and plastic, but whatever mistakes he’s made, and of course everybody makes some, the level of dislike directed at him seems very disproportionate.
Goodell for him.
Reminds me of another commish to whom time has been kind: David Stern. He kept both makers marks AND ads off his unis.
There will never be enough time for Stern to be viewed more kindly in my neck of the woods. Maybe if he had kept OKC off the Sonics jerseys….
…but they have ads on the practice jerseys.
I think this works in the NFL’s favor. They should be publicly mocking the other leagues as being so poor they have to sell ads on jerseys.
As far as I’m concerned (speaking only for myself, obviously), I don’t care how many ads they put on the practice jerseys. Go full NASCAR for all I care. Just keep the game uniforms ad-free.
And the stadium names…
While I applaud the idea of not cluttering/prostituting NFL uniforms, the idea that they are “clean” is ludicrous.
Between the shield, unnecessary wordmarks, captain’s patches, memorial patches, patches for anniversaries and new stadiums and international games and Super Bowls and maker’s marks, NFL jerseys are far from clean. (Of those, memorial patches are the ones I can get behind.)
I agree with your clean sentiment but to go back to what the exec said after the clean comment the uniforms with those patches at least are trying to tell the league or that teams story/information. So it may be cluttered but all of that makes infinite more sense than a random company that has nothing to do with the team.
Ha, that was my thought too. Seems to be a trend of logo patches or oversized wordmarks on the chest lately. League wide the uniforms are far from clean looking, off the top of my head I’d say at least a quarter of teams have a clustered looking jersey in 2023.
But the owners are his boss? Right?
Even if he is pushing against it, if the owners want it, it will happen.
Like what was reported, my hunch is that since the NFL is the top dog in revenue they don’t “need” this the way the other leagues do. They can avoid ads longer, which makes them look good to the group of fans like us who get worked up about it. And then after 5-10 years, when it is commonplace and an afterthought in the other sports, they can jump in because we’ve already been desensitized to it and now they don’t have to worry about nearly as much blowback over it.
I hate uniform ads so much. I have no idea how these companies think it’s a good idea, but I know their official line will be “to enhance visibility”, or something corporate-speak like that. Personally, the only staying power uni ads have with me is making me forever annoyed with any brand I see on the court/field. Motorola, General Electric, and Oxy Petroleum are a few that come to mind that have had honking, contrasting ad patches that have only stuck with me due to their obnoxiousness. I know it’s probably never going away, but good Lord do I hate it.
I agree! It’s not like we haven’t heard of these companies anyway. Who really makes a decision based off of this. Big waste of money with no way to quantify its actual value.
Like it is stated above, one could think of the no-ad policy as a proof of some sort of superiority the NFL expresses over the other leagues. I applaud Goodell for being against the practice. Ads cheapen the uniform. However, I think, as is stated above as well, that the NFL will jump in when we least expect it. We got more or less used to NBA jersey ads in just 2 or 3 seasons. With soccer in Europe it took even less time. The NFL owners sit and wait and then: bingo. Objections from fans during the first season, after that it will gradually fade away. Creatures of habit is what we are. We object, adopt and continue.
We got more or less used to NBA jersey ads in just 2 or 3 seasons.
Speak for yourself. Still an eyesore to me.
Ofcourse it is still an eyesore, but most fans do not complain about it anymore. Sad but true. If the NBA would abandon them people would notice: hey, where are the ads? Even worse: no more ads on the uniforms? Is the league financially in trouble? That is the reaction in Europe when a pro soccer team cannot find a shirt sponsor. Not: wow, how refreshing, we have our shirt back. But: hey, is my team in trouble? I do not know if it works that way stateside but I would not be surprised.
Ofcourse it is still an eyesore, but most fans do not complain about it anymore.
But that’s not what you originally said. You said fans had “gotten used to it.” Not the same thing.
I, for one, have not gotten used to it.
“Even worse: no more ads on the uniforms?”
Yeah, I don’t think that’d be the reaction.
I know almost as little about soccer as Paul, but I always watch the World Cup and Olympics precisely because there are no ads.
“Is the league financially in trouble? That is the reaction in Europe when a pro soccer team cannot find a shirt sponsor.”
And if having a giant billboard on your chest is a point of pride, then I probably won’t be paying much attention to said league.
My original comment was: ads cheapen a uniform. I hate uniform ads. But I notice that a lot of NBA fans in my part of the world have no problems with the ads, conditioned as they are by our soccer teams. And I am only mentioning the euro attitude to pro clubs without advertising on their chest because it actually is how 90 percent of the fans look at it: they want to buy the exact replica shirt with the advertiser to feel as close to the players as possible. No shirt advertiser means trouble at the club. Can Phil and you imagine this happening with NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL fans on your side of the Atlantic Ocean? I saw a 12 year old fan here ask a retailer for a Milwaukee Bucks shirt (number 34) with the Motorola ad, as he wanted it to be as close as possible to the one Giannis is wearing in games. In Europe this is standard fan behaviour.
Also, for Phil: I applaud your view of only watching soccer games without advertisers like at the Olympics or the World Cup, but a lot of European fans would not mind buying a national shirt with an advertiser on it (we do call them shirt sponsors, by the way) if it lowers the price of a replica shirt. The practice gear of national soccer teams are already plastered with company names and unfortunately I expect UEFA to cave in eventually and allow advertisers on national team uniforms. Once again, most European soccer fans will only shrug at this. I will deplore it. Like I said: ads cheapen the uniform.
“In Europe this is standard fan behaviour.”
Thanks for sharing your perspective. But it’s almost diametrically opposed to US (or at least those of us who are Uni Watchers).
And if a team in a professional league can’t “make it” without a
sponsoradvertiser, then perhaps it’s time to sell/fold/relegate said team. I’m sure there are plenty of wealthy Middle Eastern billionaires who’d be happy to take the team off your hands.
Final example of the huge difference in viewing shirt advertising between Europe and the USA: my favorite soccer team is Sparta Rotterdam. Their first shirt advertiser in the early 80s (shirt advertisers came late to the Netherlands compared to Germany, Italy and Belgium, for instance, where it started in the mid 70s) was Dutch theme park De Efteling. Replica shirts with De Efteling (which has not been the Sparta shirt advertiser for over 30 years) are still selling like hotcakes at the fanshop. I would never buy one as I prefer no ads, but our European fan culture is: wearing a shirt with an advertiser from 20-30 years ago shows that you are a long time fan and gets tremendous respect in the stands. Can you see this happening stateside in the big 4 leagues, I wonder once again. I honestly do not know.
Plus I wonder how MLS fans view the shirt advertising of their teams: part of soccer culture/aesthetics, economically necessary ( I read somewhere that the MLS is in the global top 10 of gross income for a sports league, not just soccer, so including the NBA and the NFL, so that would not be a valid argument) or just as much as an eyesore as we do (and I count myself among you).
I’ve had my issues with Mr Goodell in the past, but he’s been getting on my good side lately.
Now, I nominate him Commissioner for life!
At least for my life.
Great news today!
Now someone tell the Michigan Panthers to get rid of their ad patch before the rest of the USFL goes downhill uni-wise.
I know I”m beating my head against a wall here, but the NFL has had ads on their jerseys for decades now. And I know that Paul calls them “maker’s marks” but when you look at an NFL jersey there is a corporate logo staring you right in the face.
If one wants to say that the “maker’s marks” are an “acceptable” form of uniform ads, that’s one thing. But yeah, the NIke logo is there so people watching on TV will see it and thus be reminded of the Nike brand. It’s not like it’s a hidden tag that is meant to identify the manufacturer in case someone is curious, like on most of the t-shirts we wear.