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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 7, 2022 5:12 am PDT
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…and now a word from our sponsor

In early 2019, it was reported that Major League Baseball was seeking to use the players uniforms as ad space.

It was tested in the MLB London Series, June 29th – 30th, 2019. The two-game series saw the New York Yankees play the Boston Red Sox in what was truly a series unrepresentative of the sport. In all ways including ads.

Both teams sported two ad placements, 1) Madison Dearborn Partners’ BioFreeze patch on their left sleeve and 2) Canadian Telecom Co., Mitel logo on their batting helmets.

With the lead up to that series, my industry, the ad industry, was tipped off that this would be in place for 2022.

Clearly this was an expected result by Rob Manfred’s MLB for their next collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which, after a 99 -day lockout, concluded on March 10, 2022.

The slow creep to this was that NIKE, who took over the on-field rights and manufacturing of MLB’s uniforms when Under Armour backed out due to huge financial losses, now had been given the greenlight to share the front of the MLB Jersey with the team’s name as of 2020.  This was to ease the viewer into the acceptance of what was anticipated to come.

For many of us that played little league in the NYC area, our teams would carry the names of the team sponsor on the back (ala Bad New Bears). Mine was a local catering hall in Brooklyn, NY called Micali Terrace. But once you got to High School, then College levels, Chico’s Bail Bonds was not present.

Clearly, Major League Baseball looks to other sports for new ideas, from countless levels of playoffs to speeding up the game. This one came by way of the NBA, who struggled with it for some time.

The NBA debuted patches for the 2017-2018 season. Each team received $7 million per year (per Navigate Research) per patch. In 2019, the Golden State Warriors received $20 million per year from the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten.

This was not lost on MLB’s Chief Revenue Officer, Noah Garden, who stated back in 2019 “We’re examining the patch, but clearly we have things to work through first. I’d say it’s inevitable down the road, but certainly not immediate. This is something that requires a fairly long runway. There are lots of things to take into consideration, but I think we will get there.”

(Definition of “down the road,” and “fairly long runway” means 3 years or less, if you are keeping score at home.)

The two sports are very different, with regard to static shots. On TV, a right-handed batter, with a patch on his left sleeve will give the sponsored brand far more exposure than an NBA player, who wears it centered chest and is in constant movement on the court. The revenue from this should far exceed what the NBA receives, plus you are talking about a longer schedule in baseball (162 regular season games vs 82 for the NBA).

To be clear, MLB has a partner in this, as this could not happen without the absolute imprimatur of the players. So, while the owners will rake in ad revenue, so will the players. And clearly, they agreed on this matter.

Nike’s 10-year deal, now in its 3rd season, negotiated a contingency for advertising uniform patches. The Swoosh on the front might just be the beginning.

So, why would a sponsor dole out millions for a patch? Is it solely for the TV viewer? No.

75%- 80% of the value benefit to the sponsor comes from shared content via digital and social.

Re-Tweet your local sports reporter column of the results from yesterday’s game with an image of a player adorned in ads, that is where the value is to the sponsor. Even better is if the player himself is sharing images. (Cha-ching)

To the fan, watching the broadcast on TV (or online, or via a tablet), let’s imagine the shot of the pitcher’s view. On the mound you have an ad for DraftKings. On the back of the pitcher, you have a BioFreeze ad. On the sleeve of the batter you have a Netflix ad, on his helmet AT&T and in the background, rotating ads for Applebees, Delta, and Budweiser.

On the screen you are battling through graphics that highlight strike zone, pitch speed, strikes, balls, outs, exit velocity, launch angle, brought to you by Google Cloud, not to mention the cut in from the network (See Hot Bears in above ground swimming pools, story at 11pm). This does not include commercial breaks.

Then you have your second screen, maybe your phone or tablet, where you are interacting with other fans, commenting on the game via social networks (more ads to get around on there as well).

If you don’t already have ADHD or similar, you might after a full season of this overload.

Furthermore, to simply focus on the game itself will be an event in and of itself.

While the purity of the game has been extremely challenged under the current Commissioner of Baseball (will leave that to a particular award winning, Hall of Fame writer here on Ballnine.com), seeing the NIKE logo, any logo, on the front of a Yankees jersey did not sit well with me whatsoever.

Each team is a brand. No. To many beyond that. It is living and breathing. Each with a unique history. It represents you. You wear it, and in some cases, like a few of the lunatics here at Ballnine.com, you have it tattooed on your body.

Keep in mind these ads will not just be disposable. They will be captured on baseball cards, programs, in perpetuity. (As an ad guy, you simply can’t ask for better.)

Another question that should soon be answered is when you hit the team store, will the jersey of your favorite team be adorned with these ad logos? Would the market want that?

Then there is the halo effect, where a brand can bring a negative. Hate a brand, you might end up disliking your team, subconsciously, because of the brands they advertise. Or on the flip side choose to support a team because you like the soap brand they wear. Neither a good reason.

Needless to say, will this look like NASCAR? Not immediately, but we are closer to it than we were 2 years ago.

In fact, so close, that Major League Baseball has announced ads on Batting Helmets in time for the 2022 Postseason (at this writing potential advertisers and costs have not been disclosed).

This was followed by the first team (San Diego Padres) to strike a deal with an advertiser (Chicago-based Motorola) where they will be wearing a logo on their sleeve starting in 2023 for $9.3 Million per year. (in case you miss the batwing logo on the jersey, fear not it will be seen on the Left Field wall in Petco Park and at the Padres Hall of Fame area).

``1-800-$$$-GRAB``

Not far behind are the Los Angeles Dodgers who have teamed with an international sports marketing agency (Sportfive) to identify advertisers for the club’s jersey sponsorship as well as field presenting sponsors (Dodger Stadium, brought to you by Tide) or even sell the name of Chavez Ravine, which could hit $1 Billion (Crypto.com paid $700 million for Staples Center).

Currently, MLB league rules allow for a single 4” x 4” patch on the camera side sleeve of the player. One sponsor for the entire season. Clubs have the option to sell their “authentic” jerseys with or without the ads. Banned sponsors include alcohol, media brands, AND betting.

Meanwhile, while betting is banned from appearing on uniforms, now comes the first active player to sign a “Brand Ambassadorship” with the recently launched Sports Betting / Online Casino MaximBet (in partnership with Maxim Magazine) – Colorado Rockies Outfielder, Charlie Blackmon (financial details have not been released, but Blackmon will be receiving one-of-a-kind baseball items from MaximBet, created by custom artist SolesbySir which will include gloves, cleats, etc. which potentially will be used on the field.). Why is Pete Rose banned from baseball again?

As the days go by, more and more will be announced, but as it stands, big-market clubs (Yankees, Dodgers) can expect upwards of $35M per year for a patch for a single year.

Yes, dear reader, MLB has now created the money equivalent of the Golden Corral where 30 owners are tripping over themselves for the sliced prime rib, piled 2 feet high.

For the fan, Major League Baseball is banking on the few who will shrug their shoulders and carry their water, while the majority will attempt to look past the ads and attempt to enjoy a game that looks and plays a lot different than it did a decade ago.

And done so, it appears, to simply maximize ad revenue at every turn.

What is certain, no Chief Revenue Officer on the business side of Baseball will be crying poverty.

International, award-winning carnival barker...chances are I've sold you pairs of sneakers, made you tune in to sporting events, got you to drink soda, energy drinks, beer, whiskey, picked your last and next vacation as well as made you drool over a car, among other things.

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