Apr 21, 2022 - Sports

Advertising invades sports jerseys

Illustration of a megaphone beaming up sports balls like a UFO.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Jersey advertisements have long evaded the Big Four leagues, but that valuable real estate has become too tempting to ignore.

Driving the news: The Padres on Tuesday became the first MLB team to announce a jersey patch sponsor, signing a multi-year deal with Motorola reportedly worth $10 million annually.

  • The deal includes a Motorola patch on the right sleeve and branding throughout Petco Park.
  • The Dodgers also enlisted a marketing firm on Tuesday to help strike a jersey sponsorship deal.

The big picture: Five years ago, no Big Four sports leagues had jersey sponsors. By 2023, three of them will.

  • NBA: Jersey patches debuted in 2017, and this season the program is expected to generate $225 million in revenue, per Boardroom.
  • NHL: Helmet ads debuted in 2020 to offset pandemic losses and stuck around after generating $15 million total in the first year. Jersey ads — expected to generate $5–10 million per team — will debut next season.
  • MLB: Last month's CBA gave teams the right to sell sleeve patches beginning in 2023, which could generate $8–10 million per team, per SBJ. Helmet decals could debut as soon as this postseason.
  • NFL: Teams began selling ads on practice jerseys in 2009. There's no word yet on game day jerseys, but it feels somewhat inevitable.

By the numbers: The change is already bearing fruit for MLB. The average team is worth 5% more now than last year, per Sportico, thanks in part to the promise of jersey patches.

Zoom out: Jersey sponsorships stateside still pale in comparison to those in European soccer, where some clubs make as much in a year as entire leagues do here.

  • Manchester United, for example, make $185 million annually on their jerseys alone.
  • Breakdown: $98 million from Adidas (kit supplier), $61 million from TeamViewer (jersey sponsor) and $26 million from Kohler (sleeve sponsor).

The bottom line: What was once jarring — like a "bibigo" logo on the iconic Lakers jersey or a Nike swoosh atop the Yankees pinstripes — now feels normal. And it's only the beginning.

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