Coming off a COVID-forced 635-day hiatus, the National Lacrosse League wanted to emphasize its broadcasts as play resumed in December. And the NLL had just the tool to get the word out: its own jerseys.
Across the league, teams are wearing ESPN+ patches on their chest (or TSN patches in Canada), as sports and broadcasters tie themselves closer together in the streaming era. Trading in the real estate earned the NLL additional marketing spend from its new TV partners—a way to simultaneously tell fans about the league’s new home while also reaching more people among ESPN and TSN’s existing audience.
“We were actively thinking about—who is the best strategic partner to place there?—knowing that there’s probably as much value to us as there is to the partner in leveraging that space for marketing purposes,” NLL deputy commissioner Jessica Berman said. Geico previously held league jersey inventory.
According to a source familiar with the deal, the NLL valued the uniform real estate in the mid-six figures. Both sides plan to reevaluate the one-year agreement and the exposure it generated following the season.
“One of the great things about a league and a partnership like this is it gives you that sort of ability to try something different, something that you don’t normally do, and see how it works,” ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions Dan Margulis said.
With the deal struck not long before the season kicked off, one of the trickier aspects of getting it done was designing the patches to fit teams’ various color schemes while staying within ESPN’s established brand rules.
ESPN and the NLL announced their broadcast deal in October, with plans for games to air across ESPN+ and its sister linear networks. “There’s really no bigger priority from a business perspective than building our media business,” Berman said, and that means viewing the league’s new relationship with ESPN “as an integrated relationship that really extends beyond content distribution.”
“We think of them as a commercial partner,” she added.
Today, fans don’t just pick a sport to follow, they pick a platform to pay for. And every month, they pick again. Sports broadcast deals, then, are no longer a mere matching of content and cameras. Instead, leagues and broadcasters each bring an audience to the table.
“Promotion in general is very important for us. We put a lot of focus on reaching out to viewers to let them know what’s on TSN,” executive director of sports programming, legal and business affairs David Bross said. “This was exciting because it gives us one extra promotional tool that we have never had in the past.”
By putting an ESPN+ patch on its jerseys, the NLL is hoping to drive more people to the service, both for its partner’s sake and for its own. In return, ESPN is urging its audience to tune into NLL action, for its partner’s sake but again also for its own. Symbiotic? Certainly. Circular? Sometimes. Like last week, when @NLL tweeted an ESPN highlight of NLL action, featuring ESPN+ ads on the field’s boards and the players’ jerseys.
ESPN+, that’s where you can catch the NLL, if you hadn’t heard.