Big 4 U.S. pro leagues refuse jersey logos, and their moneyBill Sayer
Liverpool FC, one of the more popular teams in the history of the EPL, signed the first sponsorship deal in 1979. The world’s current most valuable club, Manchester United, signed its first jersey sponsorship deal in 1982 for just 500,000 pounds per year. This has since rocketed to U.S. $32.6 million per year paid by U.S.-based insurance company Aon. Every EPL team now has a sponsor, and the deal prices drop sharply after the top few clubs. The sponsoring companies include what you might expect, such as airlines, banks and consumer electronics companies -- and even several sports gambling websites.
In the U.S., jersey sponsorship has existed in peripheral leagues. The now-defunct Arena Football League had jersey sponsors. The Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA has a LifeLock on its jerseys that is much bigger than the team logo. U.S.-based Major League Soccer is no surprise, as it modeled its league and culture from European soccer leagues. The Philadelphia Union has a four-year deal with Mexican food company Bimbo, paying $3 million per year. MLS even has a team named the N.Y. Red Bulls, named after their owner, the energy drink company.
None of the Big 4 U.S. pro leagues have embraced jersey sponsorships. Starting in 2009, the NFL allowed teams to place patches from sponsors on practice jerseys. They can only be patches, no bigger than 3 ½ inches by 4 ½ inches and cannot be alcohol brands. MLB experimented with this when it opened the season in Japan recently.
How much would our U.S. pro league jersey sponsorships be worth if there was a market for them? Horizon Media did a study on this last year, calculating the potential value using comparisons of what sponsors currently pay for other exposure. Horizon said NFL teams would command the highest values, with the Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, Jets and Eagles being valued at around $14 million per season. The Yankees were the top MLB team, with a predicted value of $13 million per season. NBA teams had much lower values, with the Lakers being by far the highest predicted sponsorship deal at about $4 million per year. NHL teams were valued at just $600,000 or less, but still higher than some other sports teams in the same city. For instance, they valued a Flyers jersey deal to be higher than the 76ers.
As a fan, I wouldn’t prefer jersey logos, but I wouldn’t be upset by them either. The apparel contracts in each league already allow sponsors to place their logos on footwear, gloves, helmets and jerseys, albeit less prominently. What if it meant cheaper tickets or fewer commercial breaks? While it’s certainly related to the nonstop style of the game itself, the EPL has succeeded to be the most-watched sports league without any in-game commercial interruptions. To me, it’s still the same players and teams, just with a different wrapper. I do wonder, though, how I’d feel about the brands associated with a team and its rivals. Would Steelers fans accept a sponsorship from Philadelphia Cream Cheese? It makes you wonder what 32 companies would step in to sponsor the big leagues and their teams.
How would you feel about jersey sponsorships in the big U.S. leagues? Would it destroy the sanctity of the game?
Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?