The Cincinnati Reds “hosted” the St. Louis Cardinals for a 2-game set in Monterrey, Mexico last weekend. Location aside, there was nothing noteworthy about the series, but a minor tweak to the teams’ uniforms sent social media ablaze; both clubs adorned the Ford logo on their batting helmets. Sponsor logos have been permitted on MLB uniform sleeves and helmets – for games played outside of the U.S. – since ’00 (here’s a shot of Jeter, circa ’04), so this wasn’t the introduction of a new initiative, but with the success of the NBA’s jersey patch program and MLB playing more games abroad than ever before it stands to reason that sports business professionals are paying greater attention.
Howie Long-Short: It’s somewhat ironic that the use of sponsor logos on MLB uniforms is first making headlines in 2019. As Tony Ponturo, EVP at Turnkey Intelligence (strategic consulting for leagues/teams/facilities) pointed out “you would have expected this type of commercialism to stand out 20 years ago, not in today’s cluttered world.
While MLB has no plans to put corporate advertising on helmets (or jerseys) for non-international games, it’s reasonable to suspect the owners will eventually decide to sell ad space on team uniforms for all 162 games. In fact, Ponturo was adamant that “it will happen. Leagues need to find new ways to fill the revenue pipeline.”
Ponturo acknowledged “baseball is going to have the toughest time [among the big 4 sports] balancing their heritage with the need to keep up with the times. The baby boomer generation is going to believe that ads on the uniform goes against tradition of the sport, but the next generation doesn’t feel that way and if teams can grow incremental revenues it’s something that must be considered.”
There’s no doubt that teams can grow the revenue pie putting corporate logos on the uniform. The NBA’s patch sponsorship pilot program has far exceeded expectations. All 30 franchises have found a sponsor and the teams are raking in more than $150 million/year in revenue. Back in April ’16, Commissioner Adam Silver projected patch sponsorships would generate +/- $100 million in newfound revenue – so the league has overshot its goal by +50%.
To be clear, the Reds and Cardinals did not sell the real-estate on their helmets. While the teams (and players) share in the revenues generated from the logo placement, sales for international games – like the World Series and All-Star Game – are controlled by the league. The revenue generated from advertisements “helps to off-set some of the costs.”
MLB reasons that the use of sponsor logos on uniforms abroad remains consistant with the tradition in those countries – which is true – but Ponturo suspects it’s also a way for the league to cautiously gauge the fans reaction before making a commitment to buck tradition here in the U.S. Considering that the presence of corporate logos on the uniform has been a non-story in the NBA – fans who buy team jerseys are clamoring for replicas with the sponsor insignia be made available at retail – it’s reasonable to assume any initial pushback would quickly quiet down.
Fan Marino: MLB returns to Monterrey (for the 3rd time this season) next month for a series between the Astros and Angels, but Houston GM Jeff Luhnow insists that “it’s the idea of commissioner Rob Manfred” to eventually anchor a franchise south of the border. Luhnow believes when the league ultimately decides to expand to 32 teams, there’s a real opportunity to place a franchise in “either in Monterrey, in Mexico City or in Guadalajara.” Las Vegas, Montreal and London were also named as possible destinations for an expansion franchise.
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