Are ma­jor sports slowly em­brac­ing cor­po­rate jer­sey lo­gos?

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Tim Lemke

D.C. United’s new spon­sor­ship deal with Volk­swa­gen, which puts the com­pany’s logo on the Ma­jor League Soc­cer team’s jer­seys, is not unique in soc­cer or in­ter­na­tional ath­let­ics. But other Amer­i­can leagues are not quite ready to put a “for sale” sign on one of the last re­main­ing com­mer­cial-free zone in sports.

“We are ap­proached by com­pa­nies from time to time seek­ing to put their lo­gos on this ex­tremely vis­i­ble real es­tate, but we have al­ways turned them down,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “We never say never, but it’s highly un­likely we would move in that di­rec­tion any­time soon.”

Ma­jor League Base­ball, the NBA and the NHL also pro­hibit or re­strict the use of cor­po­rate lo­gos on jer­seys, though in­di­vid­ual ath­letes in ten­nis, golf and cy­cling com­monly don spon­sor lo­gos.

“It’s just that it’s a cleaner look for our uni­forms,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We’re al­ways mon­i­tor­ing trends, and there may come a time when a com­pany makes a propo­si­tion that rec­og­nizes the value of the uni­form. That value propo­si­tion hasn’t been made.”

United’s deal, worth about $14 mil­lion over five years, is one of the most lu­cra­tive in MLS and gives Volk­swa­gen a host of ad­ver­tis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing a right of first re­fusal for nam­ing rights to a new soc­cer sta­dium for the team.

In the case of MLS, a move to­ward the use of on-uni­form ad­ver­tis­ing is a homage to the game’s tra­di­tions. Soc­cer clubs in Europe, in par­tic­u­lar, have worn cor­po­rate lo­gos for decades, and those lo­gos have of­ten be­come syn­ony­mous with the teams them­selves.

“It’s an in­dige­nous [part] of foot­ball over­seas, and we’re try­ing to be­come more au­then­tic and con­nect with the tra­di­tions of the sport,” MLS com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber said. “The jer­sey spon­sors are an ex­am­ple of that, and we have great, in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies with val­ues that are con­sis­tent with the val­ues of our clubs.”

United is the ninth MLS team to strike such a deal.

Jer­seys for the Fire are em­bla­zoned with a blue and yel­low logo for elec­tron­ics store Best Buy, while lo­gos for Her­bal­ife, Bank of Mon­treal, Amigo En­ergy and Red Bull all grace the front of MLS shirts.

The NFL pro­hibits teams from plac­ing cor­po­rate lo­gos on jer­seys ex­cept that of Ree­bok, which man­u­fac­tures the league’s uni­forms. The league also re­stricts the amount of other ad­ver­tis­ing that might be vis­i­ble to view­ers on television dur­ing games.

“We are much more con­ser­va­tive when it comes to this,” McCarthy said. “It’s a dif­fer­ent model.” But there are signs of change. The WNBA, for in­stance, is ex­pected to an­nounce this week that its uni­forms will don the logo of a ma­jor cor­po­rate part­ner for this sea­son’s open­ing games.

Dur­ing their se­ries in Ja­pan in March, the Bos­ton Red Sox and Oak­land Ath­let­ics wore lo­gos for Ri­coh, a maker of copy ma­chines and print­ers, while the New York Yan­kees and Tampa Bay Rays wore sim­i­lar lo­gos dur­ing a Ja­panese tour in 2004.

The NFL also re­laxed its ad­ver­tis­ing poli­cies for last year’s game be­tween the Mi­ami Dol­phins and New York Gi­ants in Lon­don, though they still pro­hib­ited ad­ver­tise­ments on uni­forms.

But sports have learned to tread care­fully. In one highly pub­li­cized af­fair in 2004, Ma­jor League Base­ball faced a mas­sive back­lash af­ter plac­ing ad­ver­tise­ments for the movie “Spi­der-Man 2” on the bases in 15 ball­parks that sum­mer.

In the United States, only auto rac­ing is more ac­cept­ing of vis­i­ble ad­ver­tis­ing, with cars and driv­ers’ suits cov­ered in lo­gos and other com­mer­cial patches. In both cases, ad­ver­tis­ing is part of the sport’s his­tory.

But television cov­er­age also plays a role. Both soc­cer and auto rac­ing of­fer fewer built-in com­mer­cial breaks than other ma­jor sports, lim­it­ing the amount of money they can make from television ad­ver­tis­ing.

Foot­ball and bas­ket­ball, for in­stance, have fre­quent time­outs — in­clud­ing some de­signed specif­i­cally for television pur­poses — while base­ball goes to com­mer­cial break af­ter ev­ery half-in­ning. Ad­ver­tis­ing on team uni­forms hasn’t been as nec­es­sary.

“Those leagues and teams have been able to do fine eco­nom­i­cally us­ing other ways to ad­ver­tise,” said Paul Swan­gard, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the War­saw Sports Mar­ket­ing Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Ore­gon. “I don’t think they re­ally needed that. In some ways, they may feel that to go down that path of sell­ing uni­form rights would be cross­ing the last fron­tier of non­com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the sport.”

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