In the never-ending search for what “we can get mad at in sports today,” Philadelphia professional basketball fans are dealing with news that the Sixers—okay, barely a professional basketball team on the court, yes—are putting a, gasp, corporate logo on their uniforms next season.
The NBA is letting teams adorn their game jerseys with sponsors, and the Sixers are the first to announce a deal, snatching a reported $5 million from StubHub to put a small patch on the left chest, above the team’s “PHILA” wordmark.
People are angry.
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To save you the time, there are a lot more like that, and the sportsyappers on radio are going to have a field day with this, too. Nothing gets fans angrier than professional sports teams catering to corporate greed, and nothing spells corporate greed more than a two-by-four inch patch with another company’s logo on it, worn by a team wearing jerseys with, wait for it, another company’s logo on it.
Somehow sports fans are okay with giant adidas, Nike or Under Armour logos all over their apparel because they “make” the jerseys, but smacking a little StubHub graphic for $5 million a year is too far?
This is hand-wringing at its finest. If fans really want to be angry with the Sixers, or the NBA, there are five million other things to be mad about. Getting upset at a logo on a jersey because of some imaginary tug-of-war between civic pride and corporate greed is misguided anger.
And at the risk of getting SO MAD at those who are SO MAD about the small logo on the Sixers jersey, let’s just point out the glaring mistake in statements like this by ESPN’s sports business guru Darren Rovell:
Soccer is, whether people like it or not, a major North American sport. Forget, for a second, that MLS stands for Major League Soccer and just think about how popular LigaMX is in Mexico, where jersey sponsors are displayed across the chest of every player (and fan) in the country far larger than this NBA jersey “invasion” will be.
For decades most major soccer teams around the world have worn corporate sponsors on their jerseys. It’s just part of the sport, and other than when your favorite team aligns with, say, Qatar, most people don’t even notice or care who the sponsor is.
Individual American sports like golf and auto racing are funded almost exclusively by corporate sponsors, most of which get their logos plastered on hats, shirts, bags, helmets, bumpers and fenders as far as the eye can see. In Nascar, the sponsorships run so deep they’ve become part of routine interviews like someone first thanking God.
“I’d first like to thank the Bob’s Big Boy Chevrolet…and also our Lord and Savior for watching over this all-you-can-eat-machine today.”
If Sixers fans should be mad at anything, it’s the return on the deal. One has to wonder how much the Knicks will get for their jerseys. What will the Lakers command, despite being one of the worst teams in the league, like the Sixers? What about the Warriors or Cavs, two teams with the most jerseys sales and who are on national television all the time?
Don’t be mad that the Sixers have a small logo on their chest. Be mad at how little they got for it.
Put in context, the Philadelphia Union signed a deal in 2014with Bimbo Bakeries USA for a reported $11 million over five years. If the local MLS team can get $2.3 million per year, how is the NBA team only getting $5 million with how popular the NBA is around the world right now?
And speaking of around the world, the United States is one of the only countries where most of its major sports don’t have jersey sponsors. Manchester United’s deal with Chevrolet reportedly brings in more than $108 million per year for the club. Barcelona, one of the world’s most popular clubs, made news around the globe because they may not have a jersey sponsor next year after they have been unable to come to terms with several suitors.
Real Madrid may get more than $150 million per year for their jersey sponsorship. But go on and celebrate, Sixers. You were first in North America.
It is maddening, yes, at how much going to an NBA game costs these days, with parking and concessions and ticket prices that inflate depending on the day of the week or the opponent in the gym. And, sure, teams crying poor because they do an amazing job of hiding money on their balance sheet is frustrating when shelling out close to $500 for a family to go to a game. But alternative revenue streams are one way to limit ticket gouging. This could be a good thing.
Supporters in England recently walked out during a match to protest ticket gouging. Imagine that happening in Philly:
Comparing the upshot of this fan-driven lobbying over cost control makes for a startling contrast. Next season, Liverpool tickets along the field will cost some $84. Crystal Palace will sell Premier League tickets for as little as $35.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Union, the sorriest franchise in Major League Soccer, will sell its tickets in that same spot as the Liverpool ones for $114, including fees. The Philadelphia 76ers, the worst team in the NBA by six games, sells mid-court tickets for top tier games for $245. There are surely others, nearly as bad, that follow the same model. Almost all of them in America, really.
Ironically enough, partnering with StubHub and providing another revenue stream for the team could actually stop ticket prices from going up. Wouldn’t that be worth a logo (or two) on a jersey?
Or be mad. Sure. But this is the first step to every team in America in every sport doing the same thing. If they can make money somewhere they will. All we can hope is that it makes the burden on the fans footing the bill a little bit lighter.
So congrats, Sixers. You were first. Now give free tickets to any fan who buys a new jersey.