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.