Op-Ed: Patched In – NBA Uniforms Are a New Medium

By Kiran Aditham Comment

If you recall, two weeks ago, the NBA announced that it will be selling ad space on players’ jerseys beginning in the 2013-2014 season, which had some immediately crying foul. Anyhow, Matt Dzamba, group account director at L.A. shop Zambezi, has decided to weigh on the Association’s decision. Take it away, sir.

The recent announcement that NBA teams will be able to sell–as early as the ’13-’14 season– sponsored patches on team jerseys worn during games is nothing new in professional sports. But unlike their international brethren, the NBA has a narrow space for sale: a 2×2-inch patch on any jersey’s front left upper corner.

How will this move impact the Association’s stakeholders?

Sports marketing sponsorships are for brands that want to generate a positive association by drafting off an audience’s emotional attachment to a sports entity (team, athlete or league). Fans may not care either way about car insurance, shampoo, or deodorant but they live and die with their teams and favorite players. By purchasing patches on in-game team jerseys, companies will be able to piggyback every game, every highlight, every photo, not to mention team superstars (including their jerseys sold at retail).

Brands looking for instant awareness (start-ups, international brands) have a unique media buy with the patch, not to mention broad reach without the expense ofusing TV as the medium. For those looking to resonate with Millenials, whatbetter opportunity than attaching your brand to the icons, real life superheroes to a large majority of teenagers across the world. They have their posters on their walls, watch their highlights, wear their jerseys and follow them on twitter. Not a bad place to hang your logo.

Additionally, companies that use the patch platform to tell brand stories will enjoy the biggest return. As brands themselves, sports teams amplify their positioning around star players.

But take it step further. Let’s say the New Orleans Hornets, now under new ownership and rebuilding around three exciting young stars–Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers—sell uniform patches to Lowe’s for its “Never Stop Improving” campaign. That’s pretty strong symbiosis.

Boston and L.A. have decades of tradition and excellence to offer and would be a good fit for legacy brands. In Miami, perhaps it’s a tourism play to the international audience driven by their globally recognized superstars. Maybe Nicorette takes a shot at a literal “patch” play and the Air Force connects to a team’s high-flying aerial prowess.

As with all sponsorships, brands that can find the intersection between their story and that of the entity, and expand upon it, will be able to put up both W’s and dollars.

What is the 2×2 patch territory worth in media dollars? The buy will vary by the team and market but some estimates are in the seven-figure range. Teams, especially those from small markets, have been looking for ways to increase their revenues and it’s hard to argue the ROI on a patch; not much overhead there.

I think the initial estimates are extremely conservative. Considering the dollars being spent on arena naming rights deals, which makes more sense? Paying for a sign on the outside of the playing venue or for one placed directly on the talent? Naturally, the bigger, sexier markets will out price their smaller market rivals, but the patch price would likely rise if the fortunes of a small-market team rise.

The guidelines and criteria for patch buys are still in the works and some of the considerations include determining which companies will qualify. Only League sponsors? Companies from categories that the NBA doesn’t have partnerships with? How would patches on uniforms affect players’ individual endorsement agreements?

What is certain is that the players and thebranded patches on their uniforms will be inextricably linked, thus affecting their marketability within that specific product category and may even conflict with their own endorsement deals.

For example, if Kia, an NBA sponsor, lands on every Clippers jersey, it’s all good for Blake Griffin who has a deal with the brand. But would Jeep still want Chris Paul to run point on its USA Basketball campaign?

If the 2 x 2 patch goes live for the ’13-’14 season, the NBA will raise its marketability to companies want to resonate on a local, national and global level.  Teams will offer brands exclusive real estate to actively connect and engage withtheir avid audiences.

While “location, location, location” is the accepted battle cry for most types of commerce, it is only part of the equation for sports. What brands build on that “land” will truly determine the ROI and impact on the neighborhood and competitive landscape.


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