Ads on NBA Jerseys No Reason to Panic

Feb 13, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during the NBA All Star Saturday Night at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 13, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during the NBA All Star Saturday Night at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

NBA owners are scheduled to vote this week on the inclusion of 2.5×2.5 inch ad patches that would be put on player jerseys starting in the 2017-2018 NBA season.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has enthusiastically endorsed this proposal, excited at expanding the amount of corporate sponsors who work in partnership with the NBA, according to an ESPN report.

His predecessor David Stern was always vehemently against this expansion of advertisement to his on-court product, and if this plan is approved by the owners, it will likely be a huge part of Silver’s legacy as Commissioner.

Increased ad revenue would bring more money into the league, and allow the NBA to grow in other areas. Viewing experience for fans can be improved through better television coverage that could come about through this increased revenue stream.

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Perhaps ticket prices would decrease as the league is able to make up a profit gap that would result from lowered in-person cost to attending a game.

The knee-jerk reaction to a proposal like this is one decrying the resulting impurity of players being reduced to walking billboards while on the court. The slippery-slope argument centers around these tiny ad patches growing in size over time, until NBA jerseys look indistinguishable from European soccer jerseys where the sponsor’s name is more prominent than the team’s name.

In fact, a time might come when a team like the San Antonio Spurs sell the corporate rights to their team name. It might sound ridiculous, but stadiums already do it. Maybe the future of sports is best illustrated by the “San Antonio Pepsi” playing at the AT&T Center.

Slippery-slope arguments are always fallacious in their inevitability of certain assumptions. It’s clearly unlikely that corporate influence would ever reach the hypothetical level of franchise name changes, but it’s also fair to point out that in the 1950s sports landscape, the idea of a sporting venue auctioning off naming rights probably sounded equally foreign and ridiculous.

For fans that lament at just another blatant attempt for league officials to stuff their pockets with money, it’s important to consider that this is a culmination of the NBA becoming a global commodity. Unfortunately it’s the price you have to pay for progress.

There was once a time when NBA Finals games were shown on tape-delay. The league didn’t have a lot of clout in mainstream culture, and a huge reason why they were able to expand their audience was the influx of entertaining, marketable players (Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and a little bit later Michael Jordan) that suddenly started appearing on commercials for fast-food and sports drinks.

Maybe the first time Jordan sold sneakers on TV it made basketball purists frown at the commercialization of a game, but now people don’t blink an eye when LeBron James shows up on a cellphone commercial during a 3rd quarter TV timeout.

Anti-commercialism usually stems from fear of corruption, and how it’ll negatively affect the on-court product. Kia has ads under the hoops at numerous NBA arenas. Does the presence of a reminder of Kia’s partnership with the NBA make the players on the court not jump as high? Or not be able to shoot as well?

If a fan is put off by the jersey Stephen Curry’s wearing having a corporate logo on it, how must he or she feel when Marv Albert reminds viewers who the “NBA on TNT” is brought to us by?

Fans would rather live under the illusion that the league is a “mom and pop” operation that functions without any external influence from other organizations; games are broadcast all over the world with money made simply from fans’ support of their favorite teams.

An interesting experiment would be to eliminate the NBA’s corporate sponsors for an extended amount of time and see how the league would operate without that money coming in. A fan sitting on a couch while indulging in the numerous camera angles and amazing footage brought to him/her in the convenience of a home setting is pretty blessed, and it sounds silly to complain about “undue” corporate influence while enjoying the benefits it brings.

“Undue” is in quotations because it’s a subjective term. Is it “undue” for players to advertise products involved in partnerships with the NBA? Is it “undue” for scoreboards to house corporate logos adjacent to team statistics? Is it “undue” for arenas to be named after the company that puts in the highest bid for naming rights?

The NBA has been propped up by corporate influence for decades now, and it hasn’t stopped fans from enjoying the exploits of fantastic players who’ve left their mark on this league. Accept the reality of what allows the NBA to grow to become more accessible.

Corporate partnership will expand if this plan passes, with a new canvas to advertise on. There’s no reason to bemoan the loss of innocence for the league just because an ad is moving from the court-side panel under the broadcast both to the attire of players running less than ten feet away.

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“Purity” in this sense was lost a long time ago, and fans are able to enjoy the league and its prominence in large part because of corporate partnerships. A lack of awareness and fear of change are the culprits of this anxiety. When jersey advertisements become as ingrained in the NBA as much as the litany of other reminders of external revenue sources, this debate will sound antiquated.