Should Sports Uniforms Carry Sponsor Logos?

Dollar SignI did a keynote this past week in Toronto. The session before mine was a panel discussion featuring three big players in Canadian professional sports. (Brian Burke, of the Maple Leafs, is hilarious, by the way.)

One of the questions was about whether they thought it was okay to put sponsor branding on sports uniforms. Across the board – or should I say “uniformly” (ha!) – they dismissed the very idea as unacceptable and tantamount to selling out.

I couldn’t help but think, oh really… that’s selling out? Putting logos on uniforms would be a travesty, but electronic signage alongside the field that makes it harder to watch the game isn’t? Selling sleeve sponsorship is wrong, but granting sponsors benefits that annoy and intrude on the fans’ experience is okay? Putting a brand across a player’s chest is selling out, but allowing sponsors to crowd the televised coverage with the pointless statistics brigade isn’t? I saw a game not too far back that had no fewer than three branded stats – all meaningless – on screen at the same time, taking up about a third of my television. Thanks a bloody lot.

I’m a sports fan. Most of us are fans – if not of sports, then of culture or something else – but somehow we forget that when it comes to business. Our industry routinely sells out fans, when it is not only unnecessary, but counter-productive. There are so many ways a sponsor can add value to the experience, not disrespect it. For more on that, read my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship”.

Back to logos on uniforms…

If you have ever read anything in the blog or my books, you will know that I’m not proponent of logo exposure as an objective for sponsorship. You will never hear me say that a logo on a jersey is going to accomplish much for a sponsor, because it won’t. But taking a cue from the field of medicine, first, do no harm. And while a logo on a uniform isn’t going to achieve brand goals, it also doesn’t harm the fan experience. In North America, as with the rest of the world already, fans will tune it out, and it will just be one more bit of wallpaper.

So, I’m okay with it. If the league gives its blessing and a team can generate some good revenue for a jersey sponsorship, then go ahead and do it. But teams owe it to sponsors – even misguided ones – to ensure they do something meaningful with it. Paying the big bucks for a jersey sponsorship makes no sense at all if the sponsor then winds the clock back twenty years and starts counting media impressions, rather than leveraging real results against marketing objectives.

In a perfect world, logos wouldn’t play a big part in sponsorship’s perceived value and sponsorship seekers would never sell their fans out to sponsors, but until we get there, I believe logos on jerseys is by far the lesser of the evils.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.

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