By Morris Levin
“The Hubertushirschen of NBA Jersey Sponsorship”
The photograph above is of Bundesliga Eintracht Braunschweig players in 1973. (The team has since been relegated, and plays in the 2. Fußball-Bundesliga.) The players are wearing the team jersey featuring the club crest, changed that year to resemble the brand logo of Jägermeister, the kräuterlikör made by distillery Mast-Jägermeister SE. The company’s headquarters are 11-miles south of the team’s home stadium. This was the first time a European football team sold sponsorship on the front of its jersey.
On July 19, the NBA confirmed its intention to market game jersey sponsorships as a shoulder patch. Paul and many in this Uni Watch community have been active and outspoken critics of the NBA’s decision. Since 2006, the League has sold jersey sponsorship on its WNBA jerseys in a style similar to European professional basketball teams. The NBA knows itself to be a stronger international brand than FIBA, and wants the deals commanded by top football clubs in England, Germany, Spain, and Italy.
We see David Stern laughing maniacally on the morning of July 30, sloshing his civet coffee, as he reads in the Journal that General Motors has agreed to pay Premier League football club Manchester United $559 million to advertise on its jerseys for seven years.
Many want to see soccer jersey advertisements as necessitated by the absence of revenue generating commercial breaks during the uninterrupted 45-minute halves. Therefore, the argument goes, soccer and basketball is apples and oranges.
But the argument here against NBA jersey sponsorship is based on a fear that the advertisements will desecrate the game jersey’s sacred role as totem of team identification and fan loyalty. The problem with that argument is that fan loyalty and passion in European football exceeds that in U.S. pro-sports, the introduction of jersey sponsorships not withstanding.
What I am after is the content of this difference. The 45-minute television half does not explain the devotion of European fans to team and jersey in spite of the widespread commercial sale of the jersey fronts.
Let us look at Europe’s first appearances of sponsorships on jersey fronts. First was Eintracht Braunschweig and Jägermeister. The liquor is manufactured by the Mast-Jägermeister company, founded in 1878 in Wolfenbüttel. The founder’s son, Curt Mast, introduced Jägermeister in 1935 to a Germany brimming with national pride.
The 1970 World Cup attracted a great deal of attention in Germany. It was the first to be broadcast in color, and West Germany had a good team that made it to the semi-finals. Curt Mast’s nephew Günter saw individuals from across German social and economic demographics excited about soccer, gathering around televisions to watch it. The brand had previously advertised in motor sports, and Günter was seeking new ways to advertise the company’s signature product. Mast saw the jersey front as the canvas on which to reach this television audience and approached local club Eintracht Braunschweig.
The club first applied to the German football association for permission to wear the Jägermeister logo and were denied. There was the rule, however, regarding club crests that permitted the wearing of official crests similar in appearance to corporate logos.
The Eintracht Braunschweig football club had been founded in 1895. It adopted the yellow and blue colors of the independent duchy of Braunschweig, established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The red lion is said to date to 12th century Duke Henry the Lion, who rules the city and in which erected the Cathedral of St. Blasius. With opportunity to generate revenue from Jägermeister and support the club’s performance, team members voted to change the official team crest to the Jägermeister reindeer and Christian cross. Problem solved.
On March 23, 1973, the team made its debut against Schalke in its new uniforms with the team’s new crest in the middle of the jersey. Seven months later, the Bundesliga officially sanctioned jersey sponsorship. By the following season, top German club Bayern Munich had a deal with Adidas and Eintracht had made theirs official.
For those readers comfortable with German, or happy to read through Google translator, Süddeutsche Zeitung spoke with Günter Mast in 2003 and published this piece on the back-story. The current kits are sponsored by Volkswagen Bank, but the sponsorship is still paying royalties and fans can purchase replica 1973 jerseys on the team site for €29.
The first club in the UK to market jersey space was Kettering Town. The Southern League team negotiated a “four-figure” deal with local automobile tire company Kettering Tyres to advertise on their jerseys. Kettering debuted the advertisements in the match against Bath City in January 1976. After one game, the Football Association put the kibosh on the scheme.
Evoking the best in 1970s-Ted Turner promotional creativity, the club removed the “yres” to read “Kettering T” and claimed it now stood for the municipality. The FA insisted it all be removed under penalty of fines, and Kettering Town relented. After the season, Kettering joined with Bolton and other clubs to petition successfully the FA to change its rules.
Liverpool was the first club to negotiate and wear a sponsor logo in 1979. This is an excellent discussion of the 1979-1980 Liverpool kit (and what I imagine Bill Henderson would have done had he been a Liverpool supporter). Note that the team both wore and did not wear the Hitachi logo depending on the rules of partnering media or organizations.
The introduction of such adverts was not without detractors. British television would not broadcast game highlights of clubs wearing jersey sponsorships until 1983. Publicly held club FC Barcelona was the last of the major clubs to hold out until $225 million for a single season became too much to which to say no thank you.
Paul’s opposition to NBA jersey sponsorships is rooted in what he identifies to be “something very special about the bond between a fan and his favorite team’s uniform. It’s an extremely intense form of brand loyalty… That’s a unique bond — one that shouldn’t be cheapened or sullied by the presence of an ad patch for a credit card.” The nature of this bond is sufficiently special as to render any and all jersey advertising to be distasteful by their decomposition of this core relationship and rooted in their motivation in greed.
I think we need to go further in deconstructing the content of this bond between fan and team between Europe and America. And here I come down in the school of thought that see the difference to be existential.
By way of highlighting this significant difference between Europe and America, is the news last week that Jimmy Haslam had purchased the Cleveland Browns. New ownership raises questions of competence the world over, but we have something unique to American professional sports. This is the existential question: Will the team move? This is a question in the U.S. and Canada because under our franchise systems, there a fixed number of franchises. Short of the rare expansion, one fans’ gain is another’s loss. There are Seattle Sonics fans without an object of support.
European soccer fans face no such dilemma. Domestic European professional soccer leagues are organized in pyramid systems. At the end of every season, the bottom clubs from the top league are demoted to the first minor league, and the top teams from the level down are promoted. This is true through the entire pyramid down to what we would call minor leagues, semi-professionals, and adult amateurs.
Team do occasionally go out of business, and European soccer fans deal with plenty of bad teams, and poor decisions, just as we do here. But these fans do not face the existential fan crisis of his or her team absolutely ceasing to exist, and then seeing all its team history carried out to reside on some other team’s site. Tim Wallach does not lead the Washington Nationals in all-time at-bats.
We structure our ownership of teams very differently here in the U.S. than in Europe. Almost every single team in the U.S. is privately owned, and municipalities negotiate with the league regarding franchise placements.
European clubs and leagues are structured inversely from those here in the States. European professional football is an open system. What this means is that teams are not moved because they move down the pyramid until they settle at the revenue level which works for their ownership. No matter the revenue level of the organization, the club exists which cultivates long term supporters who are multi-generational. We see this in U.S. college football.
It is also an open system that one may always start one’s own professional team and start in the system. With sufficient financing and time, a team can grow into a top club and enter the upper levels.
When a group of Manchester United supporters opposed Malcolm Glazer’s 2005 takeover of the club, they started a new club called FC United. The supporters own the club and vote on how the club is run. FC United started at the bottom rung of English football at level ten, and in 2012, has reached the level seven Northern Premier League Premier Division. Want to own shares in FC United? You can do so and support the team here. Company policies might convince many of you to consider it.
Fans have a great deal more agency over team direction in Europe. Professional teams may be publicly owned and shares traded on stock exchanges. (Yes, Green Bay issues public shares but it does not exactly permit activist shareholders.) Many fans in Europe are organized into team supporters clubs which meet with team ownership, and work closely with the team in its promotion.
In this context, fans have deeper security in the lasting presence of the team in their lives, community, and future. A European fan’s relationship to the team may suffer from the team’s poor management or play, but not as a relationship in his or her life. It is the real possibility for the expectation of a lifetime relationship between the fan as consumer and team as provider of for-profit top level basketball.
The jersey is important as an expression of team identification but it is not the content of the relationship because the bond is at its very premise, structurally deeper due to this long-term relationship. Jersey advertisements in Europe may be aesthetically displeasing. This is Manchester United and Man City going without in 2008 for the Munich 1958 tribute match. That looks so good. But team devotion is such for MUFC that it can even promote the best in American multinational insurance corporations and still be valued at $2.3 billion.
The team jersey in Manchester does not have to carry as much weight of fan identification as it does here. At the heart of the question to me regarding the relative virtues of the NBA selling advertising on its game-jerseys is whether it is a smart long term decision.
It is estimated that NBA sponsorship sales will initially generate $1.5 million to $7.5 million per-team beginning with the 2013-2014 season. This is a lot more money than not selling the space. But I suppose I would find it much more interesting to see the NBA retain the brand equity in the jersey asset and instead reinvest in its own brand, by strengthening the value of the underlying product. I might even pay to watch that.
Morris Levin is an independent small business consultant in Philadelphia, a member of Athletic Base Ball of Philadelphia, a supporter of the Philadelphia Stars West Parkside commemoration project, and editor of William F. Henderson’s “Game Worn MLB Jersey Guide”. He would like to place the Little Baby’s Ice Cream logo on the Philadelphia 76ers uniform in 2013.
Thanks, Morris. As always, well thought out and well researched, and certainly food-for-thought. I’m sure our readers will have plenty to say about this.
Morris will be back again next Friday with another View from the Elysian Fields.
This section will feature updates, lesser news, and reader submissions from the XXXth Olympiad. This may end up being the last “olympics updates,” although I’ll gladly keep accepting submissions — they may just be put in the regular ticker on Monday. We’ll see. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this section — it’s greatly appreciated!
So, now, the final submissions from Uni Watch faithful, and more…
* “Remote control cars (with subversive advertising) on the field at track and field. This was interesting.” (Matthew Wolfram)
* “Since you mentioned beach volleyball, here’s a somewhat-UW-related article. ‘But look at Kerri’s legs. Check out Misty’s arms and take special notice of her feet. There’s no sand anywhere.’ Funny how they didn’t use a men’s team as an example.” (Jim Vilk)
* We covered this a couple days ago (and the link seems to ‘auto-refresh’ so the image may not match up): “What’s up with the field hockey masks? Is that something worn for international competition?” (Kurt Esposito)
* “This article goes into detail on the reasons rowers wear what they wear and how they deal with the consequences of what they wear, in light of the Henrik Rummel Olympic podium photo gone viral.” (David Barndollar)
* This is awesome. Standing ovation for hijab-wearing Saudi woman athlete as she finishes Olympic 800m heat almost a whole lap behind fellow competitors. Good for her. Good for the Olympics. Just good.
* “You probably already seen this by now but the Canadian synchronized swimming team did their first routine yesterday — it was based on soccer and their swim caps were designed to look exactly like soccer balls. A judge had warned them ahead of time to not use the caps but they did anyways. (Ben Sandrowitz)
* “I saw the comment the other day about it never being OK to drape a flag around yourself. I don’t have a screen shot, so maybe someone can help me out. At the end of the Decathlon, they showed the USA gold and silver medal winners hugging with flags draped around themselves. It looked like they had special flags that have holes cut in the corners for their thumbs to fit through. Interesting…” (Jake Kessler)
#NoUniAds Campaign…Day 22
This will be a regular feature on Uni Watch until the NBA rescinds its incredibly offensive and stupid proposal to place corporate advertising on uniforms.
And now, a personal note from Paul:
It’s important that we keep making our voices heard: Call the NBA’s publicly listed phone number (212-407-8000), ask for Adam Silver’s and/or David Stern’s office), e-mail deputy commissioner Adam Silver at his his publicly listed address (email@example.com), and tweet to @NBA with the hashtag #NoUniAds. Do it now.
Once again, we have more bad news on the #NoUniAds front. I draw your attention to this article (h/t to Mike McLaughlin), with some of the more important points excerpted below:
• Palace Sports & Entertainment president Dennis Mannion said Detroit Pistons jerseys “most probably” will have small sponsorship patches in the future.
• Mannion said. “So I think we are doing an OK job here in the Detroit metro area with the Pistons brand, (but) there are sponsors out there that can take you to a whole new level and other markets, and that’s exciting.”
• The English Premier League has generated $178 million from similar sponsorships…“I think, what we’ve seen, especially with the Premier League and the success they’ve had with the commercialization of the jersey, it’s been very positive for them,” Mannion said. “I love the way the league does business.”
Keep those letters and phone calls and E-mails coming people! This is getting serious.
More of your letters to the NBA:
Corporate ads on NBA unis? What a terrible idea. You can rest assured that I will not buy another piece of Celtics merchandise if the NBA goes through with this thoroughly distasteful plan. It’s bad enough that there are already intrusive adidas logos on everything; seriously, I just gave them my money, now they want me to be their walking billboard, too? It’s even more insulting that the league intends to expand upon this corporate thuggery. Kiss my money goodbye.
Dr. Jason Siewert:
Please accept my letter today expressing my disappointment with a recent decision by the NBA to allow corporate sponsorship on jerseys in the coming years. While I could certainly write many pages about why I believe this to be a terrible idea, I will try to be brief and highlight only a few points. I hope you will consider them.
First, while arguments can be made that such an angle has been successful in European soccer and NASCAR, I believe that those sports have historical and anomalous presidents for their ad placements. NASCAR in particular originated from rural bootlegging, and sponsorship was a necessity to advance the sport and frankly, to afford the products necessary to maintain the equipment to participate. Here, sponsorship emerges from a position of weakness and necessity, not strength. While first-tier European soccer does enjoy the benefits of jersey advertising without extreme public backlash, I would also point your attention to European ice hockey, which like the current NBA is a significant, but not dominant sport on the continent. Here, advertising gradually consumed almost every available jersey panel, and again, labels the league as weak and desperate for revenue, not an elite league that need not scrounge for dollars. The size of the ad is immaterial. Its existence suggests you badly need money and I am not sure that’s a message I would personally send.
Secondly, I would point out that corporations are not always the best and most responsible citizens. Imagine for a moment what it might be like if the Houston Astros had Enron logos on their jerseys and not only on stadium signage about a decade ago. With video omnipresent and generally fixed on the players, I can assure you that wiping away this chapter from their history would not have been quite as easy. As it stands, highlights from those years only remind us of Houston’s affiliation with Enron, when we see a rare moon-shot of a home run in which the camera must sharply pan up to the scoreboard. Had this club and league allowed the logo to be emblazoned on the uniforms, pretty much every activity performed by the club during this period (home and away) would be branded with this shameful association forever. Perhaps ironically, the same feature that makes uniform advertising so potentially valuable is the same feature that makes it risky to a team and league’s public image. You will eventually see this when the Celtics’ or Lakers’ uniform gets sullied by a corporation, later found to be involved in horrifying foreign labor practices or the like.
Finally, I would add that products from leagues with massive integrated sponsorship are quite frankly, garish and undesirable as a consumer. If you open my closet, or those of most of my sport-loving friends, you will see the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL well represented. Less frequently, you will see NASCAR products. I would argue that this is because a large volume of people that I know prefer not to walk around supermarkets as billboards for power tools, energy drinks or automobiles, not because they do not watch or appreciate NASCAR. Maybe I have a uniquely strong aesthetic for the clothing I put on my body as a middle-class American, but I don’t think so. I would suggest that jersey advertising may actually undermine sales. True, some people will gladly wear the Volkswagen logo in the form of a 12-inch patch on the back of their jacket, but some people will also wear a matching Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt and sweatpants to the mall on a Saturday.
As a big fan of the NBA, I’m writing to voice my opinion about the proposed addition of advertisements on team jerseys. I fully understand that my individual opinion does not affect the long-term business plans of a mult-billion dollar business such as the NBA, but I feel strongly enough about it to at least send along an email. I love sports. One of my favorite times this year was to simply watch playoff basketball with my sons. I try to teach my sons about life through sports. I tell them that there are no shortcuts in sports; hard work is what gets results on the court. Not freebies. Not gimmicks. Not greed.
Thank you for your time
Thanks for keeping the faith readers! We can stop the NBA if we can keep up the pressure.
Thanks to Tim E. O’Brien and Chris Giorgio for the image in the upper right of this section!
“Benchies” first appeared at U-W in 2008, and has been a Saturday & Sunday feature here for the past two years.
Sometimes the scariest things are those unseen…
Click to enlarge
Uni Watch News Ticker: New orange helmets for OSU (because they don’t have enough uni combos)? Erik Autenrieth writes, “I didn’t know if you already saw this.” … Michael Cross noticed this odd adornment below Coco Crisp’s ear on Tuesday night. “On TV, the object in the center of the target appeared to have some sparkle to it, like a diamond. Never seen anything quite like it.” … William Larson writes, “Here is a picture of Alshon Jeffery wearing what looks to be a pair of Reebok sweat pants with a Nike practice jersey.” … Good spot by Adam Triesler, who notes that Redskins.com needs to update their logos. … Caleb Borchers writes, “The stupidly named “Rugby Championship” (annual rugby tournament between NZ, Australia, SA, and Argentina) has a new trophy. They tried to make it clever, but it really just looks generic. Also seems like its driven a bit by branding (sort of like the new NFC and AFC trophies) because it looks a lot like the Super Rugby trophy, which was created by the same governing body.” … UW reported on this earlier this week, but Bowling Green Football gets new winged uniforms (thanks to Chris Mahr). … “South Dakota State University unveiled their new Under Armour uniforms yesterday” says Kyle Petersen. “They used to be with Nike and switched to UA this year. Old ones were a way more classy look, but these could have gotten a lot worse. Still would rather have the old ones.” Here’s a bonus photo gallery. (also sent in by Dr. Daniel Swartos) … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: You think spending $60 million on a football stadium is outrageous at a time when education budgets are being slashed? Apparently, this is not the case in Allen, TX, where ‘Allen raised the money for its new stadium as part of a $119.4 million bond package in May of 2009 that passed with an impressive 63.66 percent of the vote.’ Yeah, that’s not fucked up or anything. … Travis DeMarco spotted Terrell Owens wearing NBA socks in his first Seahawks practice. God those unis are awful. … Raymie Humbert writes, “You might remember that KPHO has used the old NFL logo multiple times lately. Well, this is the Arizona Diamondbacks logo they keep on file … their 2007 primary which was changed for 2008! The image is from July 26, but I have seen it as recently as last night.” … Jeff Ash sends along these wonderful color photos of the Green Bay Packers from picture day in 1961. Many uni details, including Jim Ringo wearing helmet with no G logo. They started using it later that year. … Leo Thornton sends this along: Nike presents AC Sparta Prague collection for 2012/13. … “Colorado State Football has a new uniform set for the year,” says Vincent Hecker. “They ditched the weird mini-logo hologram looking thing and reverted to plain green and gold. No stripes on the uniform or pants at all. Helmet is unchanged.” … Adam Grad says, “Special socks for Notre Dame in Dublin? You might like this one.” … “Predator helmet?” read the subject line of an E-mail from Bill Sour. “The facemask on this Schutt helmet makes me think of the Predator.” … Nice rundown of PSU uniforms, from 1887 to 2011, courtesy of Paul, who says, “This page isn’t new, but it might be worthwhile to Tickerize, in light of this week’s events.” Which is a nice segue into this submission from Scott Marakovits, who adds “Looks like Penn State’s 2012 uniform changes include not only a NOB and blue ribbon, but the Big 10 logo as well. Photo is from the team pictures, which were taken on Thursday.” … Jared Kalmus informs us that UTSA has started to hand out jerseys to football players. “Tracked down some pictures on social media — note the larger roadrunner on the collar as well as the addition of last names to the back of the jersey.” … Bill Schaefer noticed something odd about the Packers’ helmets: “Looks like a small 34 in a football but I cant make out anything underneath.” Rob Holecko thinks “it’s probably the same thing we wondered about in the UW comments before the Giants-Packers playoff game back in January — it turned out to just be ‘Rogers 12’” … “Check out those fangs!” says Kawika Asuncion. “Might have to order my own!” Also from Kawika, “Looks like Ravens RB/FB Vonta Leach left the plastic protective coating on his helmet for the first preseason game. So did LB Sergio Kindle.” … A good reminder from Paul: “The Redskins’ gold pants, which they wore for tonight’s preseason game, aren’t shown in the NFL Style Guide. A good reminder that the Style Guide isn’t always accurate, or the last word, or whatever.” … Ben Fortney checks in with this: “I wasn’t on the boards when the debate really heated up, so this may have been mentioned already. Regardless, I came across the image while searching for racial caricatures for a project and the article/essay itself is pretty amazing as well.”
And that will do it for this Friday — yes I know there were several NFL games last night, but I didn’t get to put this post to bed until after 1:00 am, and, unfortunately I have to be to work early today, so nothing (other than the ticker mentions) on those games. If you want pictures, here are some links: (Chargers v. Packers, Bills v. Redskins, Ravens v. Falcons, Saints v. Patriots, Steelers v. Eagles and Broncos v. Bears — boy do those Nikelaces look like SHIT). It’s still just the *first* week of pre-season — we’ll have plenty of time to dissect those unis real soon. Thanks to Morris for the great lede, and to all the Uni Watch contributors for the Olympics stuff and ticker submissions. You guys have a great weekend and I will catch you all next week. Peace.
“You really haven’t lived until you’ve attended a Texas high school playoff game, and heard hundreds of people chant ‘ghetto school’ at the kids in your school’s marching band.” –Cort McMurray