The league’s ad patches have continued to drive awareness and value for brand partners, while more than doubling initial revenue projections for teams.
The NBA’s on-court look has shifted over the years, as manufacturing partners and styles have changed. But one of the most dramatic shifts came five years ago when, for the first time in league history, each uniform gained corporate signage atop the left shoulder as part of the NBA’s Jersey Patch Program.
First floated publicly by then-Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver at the turn of the 2010s, it wasn’t until later in the decade that the visible sponsorship concept was fully launched for an initial three-year test run. When Silver first mentioned the idea, the estimated potential financial impact was around $100 million in combined revenue for all 30 teams.
Now five years in, Boardroom has learned that the jersey patch program’s combined value for the 2021-22 season is projected to be $225 million — more than double initial estimates.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth from this asset [in terms of both] revenue and the caliber of brands, both domestic and global, that are partnering with our teams,” said Amy Brooks, NBA President of Team Marketing & Business Operations and Chief Innovation Officer.
After seeing the acceptance of on-uniform advertising in global soccer, along with test runs in both the WNBA and G-League (which updated the first letter of its entire league based on a sponsorship with Gatorade), The Association finally felt ready.
“This is something we’ve been looking at for many years,” Brooks said. “We launched it five years ago, and of course, we debated things like, ‘How would the fans react to it? Will this collectively grow revenue, or will it cannibalize areas?’”
As the league has found out, there’s been an additive influx of revenue even beyond initial expectations. The original pilot program was given a three-year test period slated to end in 2020, and less than two seasons in, at the April 2019 Board of Governors meeting, the Jersey Patch Program was indefinitely extended.
From a design standpoint, the precise location of where the precisely defined 2.6876” x 3.25” ad patch would be placed on each team’s game uniforms was debated at length.
“We wanted to preserve the team brands as most prominent on the jersey, so we saw that shoulder placement as really the right balance of maximizing exposure on the jersey itself, while maintaining the team brand as most prominent,” Brooks said.
Ahead of the 2020-21 season, teams also began selling sponsorship real estate across the abdomen of their practice jerseys, which are increasingly highlighted across team social media accounts during behind-the-scenes coverage.
Just this week, the Board of Governors yet again voted to expand its approach to corporate sponsor patches, approving a new Shooting Shirt Patch Program. League review and approval will be required for all new deals, meaning it may not be until early 2022 that we see signage across shooting shirts and warm-up jackets.
The patches will be 3” by 3” in size, and located either along the currently empty right sleeve of tops, or adjacent to the team’s primary logo along the left chest — whichever the team prefers. The Nike Swoosh will continue to stand solo along the right chest of warm-up tops, while the league’s NBA 75th diamond logo will hold down the left sleeve placement.
Teams can add yet another patch for an existing team sponsor, or negotiate with additional companies to bring a new partner into the fold. They could also opt to simply add a team initiative slogan in that space as well.
For the 2021-22 season, 28 of the league’s 30 teams currently have a jersey partner, with the Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards still looking to lock in their next partner after the expiration of their prior respective deals with FedEx and Geico.
To date, a total of 44 corporate partners have participated in the NBA’s Jersey Patch Program, with two-thirds of the companies doing business with the NBA for the first time. Two-thirds of the brands also have a global presence, bringing an expanding dynamic to the shoulder signage seen repeatedly throughout games.
“We found that partners wanted to really use this asset for different reasons,” Brooks said. “Some partners wanted to use it for brand awareness, other partners wanted to use it to sell more product. We’ve seen other partners want to use it to become more relevant in new markets globally.”
Below, a look at all 44 brand partners that have participated in the Jersey Patch Program since the 2017-18 season.
(Note: The Nets are now on their third partner, and also had an initial patch sponsorship with Infor. 15 teams — half of the league — have kept their same patch partner for all five seasons.)
|Team||Current Patch Partner||Previous Patch Partner|
|DET||United Wholesale Mortgage||Flagstar Bank|
|HOU||Credit Karma Money||ROKiT|
|MIA||Ultimate Kronos Group|
|SAC||Dialpad||Blue Diamond Growers|
Initially, there were local synergy cases, like the Orlando Magic’s Disney patch, or the Milwaukee-headquartered Harley Davidson’s sponsorship of the Bucks. As the seasons progressed and the program proved impactful, prices ran up, more than doubling from the early $3-5 million dollar range that non-major market teams were inking.
Powerhouse franchises like the Warriors and Lakers more recently led the way by generating nearly $20 million per year on their respective patch deals with global partners Rakuten and Bibigo.
Some ad patch deals are for two or three years at a time, while the Lakers’ new pact with the South Korean food company is for five years and $100 million.
“You have these top global brands and a mix of these top, up-and-coming emerging brands as well,” Brooks said.
This season, more rising companies and fintech groups have entered the fold, including Crypto.com, which struck a 6-year jersey patch partner deal with the 76ers, even before its 20-year stadium rights deal with the Lakers to rename Staples Center was finalized.
Through the jersey sponsorship, the Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency trading platform with a user base of 10 million will also receive considerable in-arena advertising signage in Philly, access to 76ers marks in global campaigns, and will look to launch crypto education initiatives for 76ers fans.
In many ways, the patch program has evolved as companies look at deeper integrations beyond just slapping their logo on a uniform and calling it a day.
“Phoenix and Paypal, what they’ve done to integrate their product into the building and their services for fans has been a good one,” Brooks added. Suns fans can pay with PayPal to order food from their seats, or buy items at arena stores and have purchases shipped to the preferred home address linked on their PayPal account.
After sponsoring the Nets last season, Motorola now sponsors both the Pacers and Bucks with an ‘M’ logo atop each of their uniforms. The Pacers’ deal is worth as much as $10 Million annually, while also making Motorola the presenting sponsor of its team mobile app.
Rakuten, the Warriors’ patch partner in all five seasons so far, has continued to expand the scope of its overall NBA partnership, co-hosting viewing parties for local fans in Japan throughout the NBA Playoffs.
VistaPrint, the Celtics’ latest jersey partner now in the second of a 4-year deal, provided twelve $25,000 small business grants and company resources for black-owned businesses in the Boston area, as part of an overall million-dollar pledge toward community impact.
Building on the jersey patch program’s success, the league launched yet another marketing extension, dubbed the International Team Marketing Partner Program. Now in the first of a three-year pilot program, each team can have up to three official team marketing partners, which provides them with expanded activation rights across global digital channels. Nearly half of the league’s jersey patch program partners are also part of the international partner program.
“A big reason why we launched [the jersey patch program] is because the NBA is a global brand,” Brooks said. “Many of our partners are global brands, and we felt like this was an opportunity to grow both the NBA and our partners’ brands and businesses globally.”
As it stands, the Jersey Patch Program is here to stay, with both teams and companies alike finding value in the visibility, awareness, branding, and activation potential.
“It’s something we’re always evaluating, but we very much like the scarcity in this,” Brooks said. “You have one partner on a team’s uniform, and there’s [only] 30 of those.”