The Unnecessary Grossness of the Jersey Ad
I don’t watch a lot of basketball. If I’m a “fan” of any team, it’s the Indiana Pacers. I watched them all the time when Reggie Miller was at his peak and I was dumb enough to believe they ever had a real shot at winning a championship. Now I just watch the playoffs and finals. I don’t even know 90% of the players in the league anymore, I just like big sports spectacles with stakes and tension.
The absolute grossest thing about watching the NBA’s television product right now is the jersey ads. I didn’t even know it was a thing that happened until I turned on a playoff game a few years ago and all of a sudden the Cleveland Cavaliers had a Goodyear logo on their chest. The Pacers were among the very last to adopt a corporate sponsor of their jersey, but they eventually slapped on a big ugly Motorola logo.
There’ve been talks for a while now about the MLB doing something similar and turning their jersey sleeves into sellable ad-space. Despite how much baseball’s cultural relevancy has declined, the idea of ancient teams like the Yankees, Cubs, or Reds sporting a fat RAGU CHUNKY SAUCE logo is just obscene.
There hasn’t really been anything tangible pointing to the NFL doing jersey ads, but if basketball has already done it and baseball is planning and hoping for it, you can safely assume it’s on football’s mind.
The NFL’s reach is so massive. Its viewership so entirely eclipses all other sports in America that selling ad-space on jerseys would be the most visible (and, for the advertiser, expensive) incarnation of the jersey ad in the country. Football teams covering uniforms in ads wouldn’t feel quite as “nothing is sacred” as if and when baseball does it, but it would be one of the most blatant expressions of greed in sports history.
When the NBA started making their players living, breathing, dribbling commercials, it was under the guise of the companies that pay for the privilege of helping to elevate the league’s and individual teams’ brands. This is obviously not reality. Based on my painstaking research method of living in Indiana, I’ve determined Motorola’s Pacers partnership has added a grand total of zero new Pacers fans.
The ads aren’t even aesthetically nice. They couldn’t make them blend more seamlessly because then people might not notice them. Instead, you end up with trashy messes like the Thunder with a bright yellow and red Love’s Travel Stops logo.
There isn’t a corporate jersey sponsorship that would significantly increase the NFL’s permeation of American culture. It feels like we’re already at critical mass there. So making Patrick Mahomes a literal billboard would be a cynical money-move with legitimately zero benefit for fans. Yet, it feels inevitable that at some point during the Chiefs’ upcoming 10 consecutive championships we’ll be watching them hold up the Lombardi with everyone’s last names replaced with CHEEZ-IT SNAP’D.
Sports is ultimately a business, and money means more to these leagues than anything. I get that. I won’t even get that annoyed if and when the NFL tarps off the lower sections of stadiums and replaces seats with advertising signage. I’d rather not be inundated with even more corporate logos during football games, but it somehow feels slightly less unappealing than watching games played in front of empty seats.
But the alternative to having ads on uniforms is to just not have ads on uniforms. Which is ultimately what makes the NBA already doing it and the MLB wanting to do it so gross. These aren’t leagues that need those ads to survive. So they’re selling space on their players’ bodies for no reason other than money-worship.
Hopefully the NFL has had a rare moment of self-awareness and realizes the money-grubbing image of selling jersey ads isn’t worth the extra cash they’d bring in. But it’s difficult to imagine the NFL ever being self-aware, so that’s probably a doomed hope.
When I was a kid and played Babe Ruth League baseball, our league functioned on the company-sponsored teams model. I didn’t play for the Tigers or Bears, I played for McDonald’s, Lynch Construction, and Pizza King. Granted, that was Babe Ruth League and not a professional enterprise, but it is an example of when jersey ads are not only palatable but ultimately beneficial.
McDonald’s was the exception in my town’s Babe Ruth League. Most of the teams were sponsored by local businesses or small local chains. Any funding they provided went into the league itself and the players and their families got discounts or free food from the business that sponsored their team. A pretty even exchange that had some benefit for everyone involved.
If you expand that concept from youth leagues to the pros, the smaller semi-pro and pro leagues that don’t have nearly the exposure of the NBA, MLB, NFL, etc. can actually use the money they get from selling jersey ads. It still feels a little gross to see it on TV, but the players feel a bit less like living NASCAR stock cars when they’re not playing in a multi-billion dollar league.
Ads aren’t fun. That’s all this really comes down to. Ads aren’t fun, and putting them on a human when you already basically have infinite money tiptoes on the borderline of evil. It’s that particular brand of capitalistic evil that we’ve been so drunk on for so long we think it’s normal.
It won’t make me stop watching, but I will feel really slimy and rotten when I see Mahomes execute his first no-look pass wearing a glowing, digital neon visor sponsored by BAR HARBOR CLAM JUICE.