Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Updated: April 5, 8:30 PM ET
Debate: Ads on NBA uniforms?
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Should the NBA advertise on uniforms? Mark Cuban is all for it. What about our panelists?
1. Prominent ads on uniforms: Good idea or bad idea?
J.A. Adande: Bad idea. This isn't Little League baseball. Keep it classy and professional-looking, with at most a tiny logo of the jersey manufacturer. No need to turn the players into walking billboards.
Rahat Huq: Red 94: Good idea, but with the caveat that there are market regulations. Without that, you risk creating even greater inequality than before.
Paul Lukas, Page 2: Bad idea. Makes fans more cynical, reinforces the notion that everything in sports (and in life) is for sale, and furthers the relentless encroachment of advertising into every facet of American life. Oh, and it'll make the uniforms look awful.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: The word I'd use is inevitable. I'm generally a purist who responds angrily to most big change in sports, but I love international soccer too much to sit here and preach about what an injustice this is, since it's been commonplace for decades in that world. It's a revenue stream that North American sports teams will inevitably find impossible to resist. Shirt sponsors will come to the NBA and all the other sports eventually, people will rail about how the sanctity of the uniform has been defiled forever ... and then eventually we'll all get past it and rail about other things.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: This idea will receive inevitable blowback from some fans, but ultimately it's a good idea because it will help stabilize the business of the NBA. Put differently, the NBA will create a new revenue stream, but it's difficult to imagine the league losing fans over the move.
2. Are there leagues the NBA should emulate if it puts ads on uniforms?
Adande: We know they should not emulate any soccer league where the sponsor is more prominent than the team name. Only Marc Stein would like that look. Teams should be promoting their own brand above all else.
Huq: Anything but NASCAR.
Lukas: It's actually hard to do from a basketball perspective. A basketball uniform has no sleeve, no headwear, and you're required to have a fairly prominent uniform number on the front and back. Doesn't leave much room for an ad patch.
Stein: This is the far bigger complication. Soccer teams worldwide naturally have a space across the front of every shirt for a sponsor because it is standard in international soccer for every team to put its logo/crest right over the player's heart. All the prominent real estate on an NBA jersey is already taken, so it's not going to be nearly that easy. Moving, say, where it says BOSTON or CELTICS across the chest to make room for a sponsor ... now that would be cause for a nationwide protest. The sponsors are going to have to be sewn in down the sides or somewhere else. Which makes it fair to wonder how much sponsors are really going to be willing to spend. Probably won't be with the same gusto as we see in soccer.
Varner: Obviously, soccer and professional European basketball serve as models. I wonder how teams will divvy up space on uniforms, and whether these leagues provide a useful model? For example, how will available space be split between sponsors won by league sales initiatives versus sponsors won by franchise sales initiatives? There is also the question of conflicting sponsorships, especially at the player level. Remember when Michael Jordan draped an American flag over his Olympic gear to keep his friends at Nike happy?
3. Does it irk you when arena names are changed to names of companies?
Adande: It only bothered me when a corporate name was tacked on to an existing building. (I never did and never will call it the "Great Western Forum." The only adjective it ever needed was "Fabulous.") But only companies with short names should be allowed to slap their names on new buildings ... for the announcers' sake.
Huq: Admittedly, when The Summit was renamed The Compaq Center, in Houston, it hurt and didn't feel right. But that was exclusively because my fondest memories of my favorite team came when the building had that previous name, not because the new name was that of a sponsor.
Lukas: Yup. You know what sports facility will never be corporately sponsored? Yankee Stadium. And you know why? Because the Yankees realize no amount of sponsorship money is worth more than the value of the name "Yankee Stadium." Too bad other teams don't have as much faith in their own brands.
Stein: Of course. But I'm as irrational about these things as anyone. If you like the ring of a sponsor's name, you get over it faster. Like with Conseco Fieldhouse in Indy. Most NBA lovers love that arena so much that the outcry didn't come until this season when the sponsor changed it to whatever they're calling it now. Conseco Fieldhouse sounds regal and proper. No one has a problem with calling it Conseco. Same thing with shirt sponsors in soccer. If you're a fan of the sponsor's product, your outrage fades quickly. Example: As a huge addict to vintage Saab automobiles, my early 1980s Manchester City shirt with SAAB across the front in glorious capital letters is one of my most prized articles of clothing.
Varner: Not really. I never pay attention to arena names and I've always wondered whether arena naming rights actually provide strong brand pull. This is subjective, but it's not something that occupies my attention.
4. Do you foresee an NBA in which teams will be named for sponsors?
Adande: It could only happen with expansion (not happening soon if ever) or if a team moves. Changing the name of an existing team in its current market would alienate the fan base. How many Washington fans will never embrace the "Wizards" nickname?
Huq: No. I don't see it reaching that point, but what I do foresee is this slippery slope bogeyman being trotted out by those against ads on uniforms. It won't be allowed to reach such a point. Big difference between placing a small ad on uniforms and entirely changing names of sacred reverence.
Lukas: You mean like the Verizon Lakers? Or the Los Angeles MasterCards? No, I don't see that happening. Things may get out of hand, but not that far out of hand.
Stein: That's a lot harder to imagine. You can't mess with team names. You just can't. The NBA would have to be in a dire, dire place financially if we ever see sponsors embedded in team names like we see occasionally in Europe. (Just FYI: When you used to read about Maccabi Elite Tel-Aviv, that wasn't a commentary on what the club's management thought of their on-court product; Elite is a famous chocolate, coffee and foods manufacturer in Israel.)
Varner: I hope not. Fan bases are, in large measure, not only rooted in a geographical place, but in the history of that place. Naming teams after sponsors begins to reorient fan bases away from their communities. Plus, this could greatly complicate the league's ability to attract certain sponsors. Would Apple want to sponsor the NBA if it included a team known as the Anaheim Dell Computers or the Microsoft Cobras?
5. True or False: Prominent ads on uniforms are inevitable in the NBA.
Adande: True, unfortunately. What other new revenue streams are coming? They've squeezed as much as they could out of the fans. Time to seek more corporate dollars. A smart player would beat the NBA to the punch by emulating World Peace -- except selling his name to the highest bidder.
Huq: True. A lot of people will kick and scream about it, initially, but 10 years afterward, nobody will even think twice. It makes too much sense.
Lukas: False, at least in the near future. Most of the people who say it's inevitable (like Mark Cuban, who's been saying it for years) have a vested interest in seeing it happen. So they hope that if they say, "It's inevitable!" often enough and long enough, they'll finally be right. But if it was truly a done deal, they wouldn't have to talk about it -- they'd just do it and that would be that. They realize most fans would react negatively, so they're trying to soften up the fan base, which will take some time.
Stein: True. As stated in my first answer: inevitable! When the Fabulous Forum became the Great Western Forum in my college days, everyone moaned about it for a while ... and then gradually forgot why we were mad.
Varner: True. Inevitable and imminent.