MLB Sleeve Patches Could Be More Valuable Than NBA Jersey Ads, According to Nielsen Analysis

The measurement firm used computer vision to estimate the value of a baseball uniform ad

MLB Boston Red Sox player Brock Holt in profile showing branded biofreeze logo on his sleeve and mitel logo on helmet during Major League Baseball London Series against the New York Yankees at West Ham London Stadium
The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both wore sleeve patches advertising painkiller BioFreeze in June's MLB London Series. Getty Images

As Major League Baseball considers introducing sponsored uniform patches in the next few years, a recent analysis from Nielsen found that such ads could prove even more valuable than those of leagues that already allow them.

The measurement firm used proprietary computer vision tech to track logos stitched on the players’ sleeves across footage of the MLB’s London and Japan series—since uniform advertising is already permitted for international games—and projected the results out for a regular season.

Based on its analysis, Nielsen estimated that an MLB sleeve placement would appear on camera nearly three times as often and as long as an existing NBA jersey ad: 289 instances per average MLB game versus 112 in the NBA, and 12 minutes per game compared to the NBA’s 4 minutes and 41 seconds. All told, the patch could generate $11 million in brand value per team each season.

The test comes after MLB vice president of business and sales Noah Garden told Sports Business Daily last month that the league hoped to roll out sleeve patches within the next three years. The trade journal reports that some teams have even begun to reach out to marketing agencies about pricing estimates, despite the complex process the project still needs to undergo, including approval from the MLB Players Association.

Jon Stainer, managing director of Nielsen Sports Americas, said the value of the patch is boosted not just by raw exposure numbers and longer game times, but also the prominent screen position it will likely have when featured on-camera and the overall pace of play.

“There’s a lot of focus around the batter, and so therefore, a lot of still shots of the battery preparing to face the ball,” Stainer said. “And it’s fairly prominent exposure as well as the cameras zones in on the batter in the center of the screen.”

The MLB has long permitted players to sport branded patches in overseas games, where international audiences are already more accustomed to seeing branding on player uniforms. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both wore sleeve patches advertising topical painkiller BioFreeze in the most recent London series in June, while MGM Resorts and automotive brand Eneos bought space on the Oakland Athletics’ and Seattle Mariners’ uniforms respectively in spring’s Tokyo series.

As recent advances in AI have made machine learning tools for image recognition widely available, broadcasters, measurement firms and startups like GumGum and HiveAI have begun to deploy it to more accurately price the value of on-screen product placements. Such evaluations usually account for the number of viewers at a given moment in a broadcast and market data on going rates for sponsorship prices. (Nielsen used Sport24’s sponsorship valuation database for its analysis.)

“[Computer vision] offers us the ability to turn around results more quickly than through traditional manual systems,” Stainer said. “We’re able to send the analysis and report back to our clients on the effectiveness of their campaigns within 24 hours.”

@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.