Should Sports Uniforms Carry Sponsor Logos?

I speak at a lot of conferences, and one question that comes up in North America – and nowhere else – is whether sports uniforms should carry sponsor logos.

The reason it comes up in North America is that most leagues there don’t allow branding on uniforms, besides a small logo of the uniform manufacturer (eg, Nike). Some rightsholders see it as an opportunity for more sponsorship, while others – including some owners and influencers – see it as being unacceptable and tantamount to selling out. This dynamic plays out in conference panel discussions and sports panel shows over and over, with the “no logos” crowd appearing to think they’re taking the high road.

I can’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 all manner of branded statistics and promotional pull-throughs isn’t? I saw a game not too far back that had no fewer than three branded stats – all trivial – on screen at the same time, taking up about a third of the screen. 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, and related media, routinely sells out fans, when it is not only unnecessary, but counter-productive. If a sponsor’s goal is to align with fans, how is it good for their brand to diminish their experience? Sell the fans out often or obviously enough, and that diminishes the fans’ relationship to the rightsholder, too.

There are so many ways a sponsor can add value to the fan experience – so many ways they can demonstrate alignment with, and respect for, the fans. There’s absolutely no reason it has to be this way. For more on win-win-win sponsorship, read my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux”.

Back to logos on uniforms…

If you have ever read my blog or 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. It is, of course, possible to go overdo it, like some European ice hockey teams do, but most of the world takes a reasonably measured approach.

So, I’m okay with it. If a league gives its blessing and a team can generate some good revenue for a uniform 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 using that hefty sponsorship as a platform for leveraging real results against marketing objectives.

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

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.

Rightsholders, for all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.

If you need professional assistance with sponsorship, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large, diverse, and/or decentralised organisations.

Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.

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