Last month I discussed how the NFL, faced with the Raiders’ advances toward Las Vegas, might become the first major professional sports league to place a franchise there and confront the taboo subject of gambling. Let’s look at another such topic for the NFL, one in which another major sports league has already dipped its toe in the water. To me, it is only a matter of time before all leagues jump into this (revenue) pool. In a small way, and unbeknownst to many, the NFL is already there.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has chosen to be a leader on the gambling issue. He wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the topic, has been critical of hypocrisy regarding gambling and led NBA investment in FanDuel, one of the leading players in daily fantasy.
Now Silver has led NBA owner approval to allow sponsor buy-in on game jerseys, starting with the 2017-18 season in the form of small patches (they will 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches, the same size as the Nike Swoosh that will be on the other side of the jersey). Silver mentioned not only a new source of revenue—the team keeps half of the deal, with the other half going to a shared league fund—but also the benefit of the sponsor investing in promoting their brand, the team brand and overall NBA brand. The Philadelphia 76ers, the league’s worst team for two consecutive seasons, made the first jersey sponsorship deal, with StubHub, for a reported $5 million per year. That price now sets a marketplace that I expect teams such as the Warriors, Cavaliers, Knicks, Lakers, Thunder and Celtics will easily surpass.
Extending that market comparison to European soccer, here are few interesting numbers:
* Manchester United’s jersey sponsorship deal is the most lucrative, with Chevrolet’s paying a reported $70-80 million per year as part of a seven-year deal that began in 2014.
* FC Barcelona’s jersey sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways—worth approximately $67 million per year—has expired. Although Quatar has an exclusive negotiating window through June 30, the club would be willing to go without a sponsor this season to negotiate the maximum amount possible for the future.
* Leicester City’s deal with King Power is currently worth $1 million per year (that number will soon rise exponentially).
* Fans of European soccer and even some other American sports—MLS, WNBA—have come to accept jersey sponsorships as part of the game. Although it seems far-fetched now, we will eventually have the same attitude about our major sports, even the NFL. It is the inevitable progression of the business of sports.
While there have been a few reactions to the NBA news such as How could they do this? it is subdued compared to what it would be if the NFL had done this. It would (and eventually will) draw howls from NFL fans and media about money-hungry owners turning players into NASCAR drivers, cheapening the brand, ruining the sport, etc. To this, I say 1) get over it, because 2) it is coming.
How many of us, say, 20 years ago, expected virtually all stadiums to be named after sponsors? And, of course, stadium-naming rights led to sponsorships for concourses, suite levels, gate entrances, fantasy lounges, halftime shows, sideline tablets, etc. And, broadcasts of NFL games have sponsors for the coin toss, player introductions, halftime reports, trivia questions, play of the game, coaches’ interviews, etc. It seems that no territory has been off limits for sponsor affiliation except the jersey. And, although not everyone even knows it, that has already begun to change.
In 2009, NFL owners allowed teams to sell off a small space on training camp practice jerseys, a size similar to what the NBA has now allowed on game jerseys. As perhaps the league and teams wanted to keep a low profile on this first entry into jersey sponsorship, there are few press releases and announcements about these deals.
We have seen the Patriots adorning the patch of their stadium naming rights partner, Gillette. The Panthers have had a Pepsi sponsor patch. The Lions have had patches of local charities such as the Ronald McDonald and Josephine Ford Cancer Institute. Other sponsor categories have included local health providers (Packers, Bears, Jets, Titans); automobile companies such as Ford (Browns), Hyundai (Cardinals) and GMC/Buick (Broncos), and technology companies SAP (49ers) and Microsoft’s Bing (Seahawks training camp, although they have worn an American Family Insurance patch). Finally, the Bills have worn the sponsor patch of local mechanical contractor JW Danforth.
The truth is that the NFL has already crossed the Rubicon in this space. With the NBA having taken the further step in allowing game jersey sponsorships, it is no longer a question of if but when the NFL will follow suit. NFL owners are looking under every rock for new revenue streams; this will be one they will not be able to continue to ignore.
Five Thoughts on the Fitzpatrick-Jets Impasse…
1) The deal will happen. Pay no attention to leaks about other options, moving on, retirement, getting impatient, etc. There are no better options for either side.
2) Ryan Fitzpatrick’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, is the ultimate deadline agent (I know from firsthand experience). He knows the Jets will not put their best offer on the table until they absolutely, positively have to. With decades in the business, he will assess when the time is “ripe” to jump in.
3) For anyone not paying attention to the business of football, the number of contract years without future guarantees means little, although it does provide for a bit of an upper hand next year. The Jets want an additional year (or years) for the unlikely chance they want to retain Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick wants a one-year deal to hold the cards next year, although little good that has done him this year.
4) The Jets have a trio of young quarterbacks drafted in the second and fourth rounds (Geno Smith and Christian Hackenberg were Day 2 picks, and Bryce Petty was a fourth-rounder). While these picks don’t carry the gravitas of first-rounders, next year would be time for the Jets to hand the keys to one of these players (as Smith was handed those keys before getting punched last season)—if not earlier.
5) The above, of course, means that Fitzpatrick is a necessary bridge for now, but disposable later. Sam Bradford is in a similar place, although he was able to wrangle $18 million (with an additional $4 million guarantee next year) to keep the seat warm for Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. Fitzpatrick and Sexton have surely tried to use Bradford as a data point, to which the Jets probably responded, “Good luck with that.” Indeed, Fitzpatrick will be paid closer to what Eagles’ backup QB Chase Daniel makes—$10 million this year, $12 million guaranteed—than to what Bradford makes.
Five Thoughts About Muhammad Ali…
1) Ali had an uncanny sense about the business of sports. He played to his strengths outside the ring—his looks, his flair, and his magnetism—and knew he could back up his attitude inside the ring. He was Deion way before Deion.
2) Ali did not ask for our attention; he demanded it. He was one of, if not the only athlete, who made us just stop what we were doing and stare. Compelling is not strong enough a word to explain his hold. He was a force.
3) I remember, in the pre-internet age in which I grew up, not being able to sleep on the night of his big fights, waiting for our newspaper, the Washington Post, to read about Ali’s fight and what columnist Shirley Povich, a surrogate grandfather to me, had to say about it.
4) What always impresses me most about celebrities is the sincerity in which they deal with “normal” people. Of course I have no way of knowing if Ali was genuine in his interactions, but the joy he brought to so many, young and old, was palpable.
5) I can only imagine Ali in the world we live in now. His polarizing effect on social media, blogs and talk shows would be acute. One has to wonder how this relentless lens of scrutiny necessarily sanitizes the views and opinions of athletes today. It is hard to see another major athlete as brazen and outspoken as Ali on the horizon.
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