With American sports franchises hemorrhaging money left and right, one might wonder why our leagues haven’t embraced one of the easiest revenue streams available: selling the front of their jerseys. Really, the argument that it’s “crass commercialism” that messes with tradition doesn’t really fly anymore, considering that every other part of the pro sports viewing experience is supported by sponsors.
Well, the seal has been broken. The WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury announced today that they’ve sold the front of their jerseys (and the sponsorship rights to all things team-related) to identity theft defenders LifeLock. Of course, soccer teams around the world have been doing this for years, and the MLS followed suit when they started to allow such deals in 2007. But this is a first for a team in the “traditional” American sports, and even though it’s the WNBA one might think that David Stern is using this as a test run for bringing the same idea to some of his struggling NBA franchises going forward.
BASKETBALL PROSPECTUS notes that Stern’s appearance at the press conference announcing the deal speaks to how serious he is about bringing similar partnerships to the teams in both his leagues.
The financial benefit for the Mercury will be huge:
It makes sense that the NBA will be the first to experiment with sponsored jerseys. Under Stern, the NBA has always been the most progressive of the three major sports leagues from a business perspective, and quite frankly there are a lot of teams that could use the infusion in cash. The ARIZONA REPUBLIC has reported that the Mercury-LifeLock partnership (which also includes court branding) will be worth more than $1 million, a huge sum that could be enough all by itself to take the Phoenix WNBA franchise from the red to the black. In the MLS, where jerseys have been sponsorable since 2007, the average cost appears to be about $2 million, with the L.A. Galaxy and Seattle Sounders reportedly bringing in $4 million a year or more. In that context, you’d figure a struggling NBA team could potentially make somewhere in the eight figures by selling space on its jerseys.
Eight figures might have been enough to wipe out the operating deficits of some teams, including Orlando. FANHOUSE says the Magic have been reporting annual deficits of $10-15 million and have been borrowing money from the NBA’s line of credit. You think the team’s run to the NBA Finals and all the attention it has brought wouldn’t have been worth $15 million to some company?
As for Phoenix’s arrangement, the team is now referred to as the “Phoenix Mercury, presented by LifeLock” on its official website. A press release goes into more detail about all of the other things included in the partnership:
In addition to player jersey rights, the partnership includes on-court apparel, in-arena signage, branding on the court, exposure on PhoenixMercury.com, including all social media outlets and e-marketing efforts. The collaboration also includes the launch of the LifeLock SafeZone basketball and life mentoring programs for underserved girls.
Additionally, LifeLock is giving free one-year memberships to season ticket holders of all WNBA teams. Take that, identity theives.
So what NBA team is going to be the first to announce a similar deal? The Bobcats? The Kings? It will be interesting to see what happens if NBA jerseys become sponsored by companies that contradict the endorsements players have (ie. if the Lakers or Cavs were sponsored by Adidas, with Kobe and LeBron being prominent Nike