Thursday, June 4, 2009

Camel's Nose, Meet Tent

Greeted this morning by some disturbing news courtesy of the Associated Press:

Packers could sell ad space on practice jerseys

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)—The Green Bay Packers are hoping to take advantage of a new NFL rule allowing teams to attach a small patch with a corporate logo to the jerseys players wear in practice.

Packers senior vice president of marketing and sales Laura Sankey called the possibility of selling advertising space on practice jerseys a “very meaningful” way for a sponsor to link itself with the team.

“It’s always exciting when the league opens new categories for sponsorship, particularly one that is so closely linked to our players and our jerseys,” Sankey said. “A practice jersey patch is a very unique and visible way for a sponsor to be involved with training camp, the team and our fans.”

The Houston Texans also have indicated an interest in taking advantage of the rule, which applies only to jerseys worn in practice.

Sponsor logos already are widespread during U.S. auto racing and golf events, and the Phoenix Mercury announced this week that they will become the first WNBA team to put a sponsor’s name, Lifelock, on their jerseys.

Such deals are considered commonplace in Europe, where soccer giant Manchester United announced Wednesday that it had reached a four-year sponsorship agreement with Chicago-based insurance broker Aon Corp.

The club did not announce financial terms but British newspapers reported that the deal, which begins in the 2010-11 season, was worth 80 million pounds ($131.2 million) over the four years.
What would this look like? We already have a pretty good idea - the Titans have been doing this for the past few seasons.

A little hard to make out in this photo, but the patch reads "Baptist Sports Medicine". Apparently, they are the "exclusive healthcare provider" of the Titans (click patch for link). provides us with some background on the Titans' patches:

Titans Wore Practice Jersey Patches Without League Approval
Posted on June 3, 2009, 4:47 p.m. EDT

We’ve tracked down more information regarding the fact that the Titans have been, for at least a couple of years, wearing a “Baptist Sports Management” (sic) patch on their practice jerseys.

With the league adopting in March a rule allowing teams to rent space on the shirts they wear while practicing, we perceived the implication to be either the Titans were breaking the prior rule or the league had bent the rule for the Titans.

Actually, the Titans were simply winging it, since there previously was no league rule addressing the situation, one way or the other.

“There was no policy prohibiting what the Titans did with their practice jerseys,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told us via e-mail. “Then the concept was discussed by our Business Ventures Committee, which decided that there should be a set of rules for this opportunity.”

So, basically, the rule passed in March validated the Titans’ approach, and formally extended the opportunity to every other team.
Ugh. Obviously, this raises the specter of ads on game uniforms, highlighted by the recent Phoenix Mercury deal. And as the AP notes, shirt sponsorship is common in world soccer.

Shirt sponsorship made its United States team sports debut via Major League Soccer in 2007. Currently eleven of the fifteen clubs have shirt sponsors, if not necessarily the big, prestigious electronics conglomerates or international airlines you find in European soccer:

So how should we react to this news? My fear is that it will be looked at as a new revenue stream, and of other teams tap that stream then the Packers might feel they have to adopt it as well, to stay current with the Joneses. Sort of an embroidered version of luxury boxes or personal seat licenses.

Personally, as much as I dislike the idea (I don't even like to see manufacturers' logos on uniforms, much less sponsor logos), so long as it remains restricted to practice gear I suppose I can live with it. Maybe.

I'm also a little distressed that the Packers were so quick to jump on this new NFL rule. This wasn't a Press-Gazette or Journal Sentinel piece on how the local teams are reacting to the rule, but a national story on wire services promiently featuring the Packers salivating over the prospect. I do wish that the team was more interested in protecting the integrity of its visual identity rather than "open(ing up) new categories for sponsorship, particularly one that is so closely linked to our players and our jerseys". But perhaps that's just me, I'm old-fashioned that way.

Besides, how much exposure would this really bring to a sponsor, especially given that the Titans have been doing this for a couple years without anybody outside Nashville noticing? Practice games aren't widely covered. The Packers don't merchandise practice jerseys. It's doubtful that these patches would be seen outside the team's local market.

Quick test - do you even know what the Packers' practice jerseys look like? No Googling, now.

Answer: just like the regular home and road jerseys, only without TV numbers and sleeve stripes.

If the "sponsorship opprtunitity" has a decidedly local cast, then, who might buy it? Thinking along the lines of the Titans' deal, the Packers have a whole slew of official healthcare providers from which to choose. Perhaps we could see a Touchpoint Health Plan or St. Vincent Hospital patch. Or perhaps they would select one of the Lambeau Field gate sponsors, already well-associated with the Packers in the minds of locals - Miller Brewing, the Oneida Tribe, Mills Fleet Farm or Verizon. I suppose the NFL wouldn't look favorably on an alcohol sponsorship, so Miller (potentially the deepest pockets) would be out. Other local companies (and sponsors) off the top of my head include Associated Bank, ShopKo, American Family Insurance, and maybe Kohler. Do you think the Packers would mind a plumbing company's logo on their practice jerseys?

The risk team runs is that the sponsor company's circumstances change, and the association turns out not to be exactly what they were hoping for when they originally signed the contract, as Manchester United recently discovered:

Whoops. Way to project an image of strength and stability there.

Then again, that sort of morning-after regret isn't exactly exclusive to shirt sponsorship:

Hope the Packers can avoid this pitfall, if it comes to it.

UPDATE 06/05: Sure enough, the Bears are publicly considering this as well. If one team starts taking this money, which teams will refuse it?

UPDATE 06/12: The Texans have been approached by a potential sponsor, an adult video company. As Paul Lukas said, lie down with fleas....

UPDATE 06/18: And the first team to actually sign a deal under this new rule... The New York Football Giants, who as part of a larger sponsorship deal will wear the Timex logo on their practice jerseys. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has a six-figure personal endoresement deal with Timex competitor Citizen, so he'll reportedly have to remove his jersey before giving any post-practice press conferences. Awkward.

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