NBA fans have been exposed to a growing number of advertisements so far this season despite the leagues efforts to reduce the number of on court timeouts as well as TV timeouts. That’s because the ads are now ever-present on the jerseys of their favorite players.
Be it Goodyear on the Cleveland Cavaliers, GE on the Boston Celtics, or StubHub on the Philadelphia 76’ers, the list of NBA teams with jersey sponsors is only continuing to grow. Despite the fact that advertisements have been preset in professional sports for nearly as long as professional sports themselves (including on jerseys in European soccer for years) there seems to be something sacrosanct about the jersey itself for American sports fans.
From a Brand awareness and reputation perspective, this presents an interesting opportunity for all the different groups involved. What and how your Brand associates and exists in the world around it is the exact thing that companies spend millions of dollars on trying to meticulously control and manipulate to the Brand’s advantage. For the NBA, it obviously represents a huge financial windfall (about $150 million) but also risks alienating fans who oppose the change. As for the individual teams and athletes (a Brand all their own in some cases), association with these other companies and brands can be problematic. What if Goodyear were to accidentally release a structurally unsound tire that endangered drivers? Would that negative event result in a hit to the Brand integrity of the NBA? The Cavaliers? What about the league’s biggest star, LeBron James who plays for Cleveland? Would his personal Brand be at risk?
This isn’t a one-way street of course. All of these brands are putting themselves on the line in some way by choosing to directly associate with each other. Goodyear certainly wouldn’t be thrilled if the Cavaliers were involved in a second “Malice at the Palace.”
Lastly, let’s remember that “fan” is short for “fanatic.” Sports fans are often in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to logic and reason. They love their team and they hate the other team. Is a diehard Laker fan going to think twice about purchasing a GE refrigerator now that they have their logo on the jersey of that fan’s most hated rival? Probably not a situation that is ultimately going to affect General Electric’s bottom line, but interesting to think about none the less. After all, for every Laker-super-fan who black lists GE there is going to be a Celtics-super-fan that will now only buy GE appliances, right?
Co-branding, cross-branding, and sponsorships of this type inherently include a risk because a Company is leaving their Brand exposed by something they cannot control. Even if nothing significant is on the scale of risking a Brand’s long-term reputation happens in the near future; how fans, the sports media, and even the competitors of these brands react should be entertaining to watch. Oh, and the basketball should be fun too.