• Hunter Parsons

The Dangerous Path of Increased Advertising in the NBA


With the 2021-22 NBA regular season winding down, fans across the country have officially said their goodbyes to the army of cardboard cut-outs that filled their seats for nearly a year and a half. However, despite the return to a semi-normal season, spectators may have noticed some slight alterations to each team’s court.[2] After successful tests of new in-arena advertisements during the 2020 “bubble” and the 2021 season, the NBA relaxed restrictions on each team’s sponsorship guidelines for the 2022 season and possibly beyond.[3] While putting more logos on the hardwood does not affect the game itself, increased advertising could set the NBA down a dangerous path where jerseys look more like artistic collages than professional uniforms.


The path started in the summer of 2017, when the NBA officially made the switch from Adidas to Nike-sponsored gear and uniforms.[4] With the new threads came the opportunity for teams to sew self-chosen sponsors on their gameday uniforms, bringing in more money for each team and, consequently, the league.[5] The change had the desired effect, delivering each franchise an average of $9.3 million per year annually.[6] Now five years later, many teams have switched sponsors, signing more lucrative deals for longer periods. Currently, the largest deal is the Lakers’ new five-year, $100 million contract with the South Korean food company, Bibigo.[7] However, though initially viewed as an opportunity for only additional revenue, increased sponsorships have now taken center-stage as the NBA’s main effort to battle COVID-19 financial losses.[8]


The NBA introduced its newest ad innovation during the 2020 NBA playoffs held in the empty stadiums of the Orlando “bubble.”[9] With no fans taking up the visible areas surrounding the court, the NBA began digitally projecting sponsorships all over the screen.[10] The large number of new ad locations can be seen below:[11]


During that Lakers/Clippers game, the UCLA Health logo placed directly above the painted area brought in 224 exposures and a sponsor media value of $3,620,771, the most of any other advertisement on the screen.[12]


After the digital advertisements’ clear success in the bubble, the NBA relaxed sponsor restrictions for the 2020-21 season, looking to carry over the newly found profits on a larger scale.[13] Now a full season later, the majority of the league appears to be testing out these new sponsor locations on their respective courts as the league prepares for the 2022 playoffs.[14] For example, the UCLA Health advertisement location mentioned above has been applied to many broadcasts, now below the paint, including last year’s NBA Finals:[15]


However, the most noticeable example of the changes is the repositioning of baseline team names to make room for additional sponsors.[16] This change can be seen below, showing the New York Knicks’ implementation of a Delta advertisement across their baseline:[17][18


No baseline advertising:





With baseline advertising:




This comes from the success of the Taco Bell baseline advertisement shown in the Lakers/Clippers game.[19] During that bubble game, the advertisement brought in 181 exposures and $2,617,721 in sponsor media value, third most among the advertisements shown throughout the broadcast.[20]

Commissioner Adam Silver has not been shy in the past when discussing his

admiration for increased advertising.[21] Specifically, Silver referenced the team jerseys of the English Premier League, a league whose popularity in America continues to grow despite having featured advertisement-centered jerseys for years:[22][23]

While only a single patch in the top right corner of each team’s jerseys is certainly far from Commissioner Silver’s dream of sponsor-centered uniforms, the Premier League style of jerseys has already been associated with the NBA’s sister league, the WNBA.[24] For years, teams like the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics proudly displayed sponsor names on the center of their jerseys, as opposed to the franchise’s name or location.[25][26]


Obviously, the league has a long way to go before advertisements completely take over the product that fans see on screen. Nevertheless, as Silver has expressed his admiration for increased advertisements in the past, and the league has seen consistent success of new sponsorship policies in the present, it is not unreasonable to expect further sponsor additions in the near future.[27]

After all, money is money, and with COVID-19 stunting the NBA’s immediate revenue growth, maybe it even makes sense.[28] However, the question remains – at what point does Kevin Durant look like less like a professional basketball player and more like a NASCAR driver?[29] Only time will tell.



References [1] John Lombardo, NBA bringing back virtual ads on court during Finals games, Sports Business Journal (July 1, 2021), https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Daily/Issues/2021/07/01/Marketing-and-Sponsorship/NBA-Activation.aspx [2] Jabari Young, NHL jersey patch, NBA virtual ads will clutter sports sponsorships in 2023, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/18/nhl-jersey-patch-nba-virtual-ads-will-clutter-sports-sponsorships-in-2023.html [3] Id. [4] John Lombardo and Terry Lefton, NBA jersey patch deals average $9.3 million annually, New York Business Journal (October 24, 2017), https://www.bizjournals.com/newyork/news/2017/10/23/nba-jersey-patch-deals-in-millions-of-dollars.html [5] Id. [6] Id. [7] Abigail Gentrup, Lakers Ink 5-Year, $100 Million Jersey Patch Deal, Front Office Sports (September 21, 2021), https://frontofficesports.com/lakers-ink-5-year-100m-jersey-patch-deal/ [8] Bill Shea, NBA to rely even more on jersey patch sales to offset pandemic cash declines, The Athletic (December 10, 2020), https://theathletic.com/2244758/2020/12/10/nba-jersey-patch-sales-pandemic-cash-declines/ [9] Antoine Laurient, Sponsorship Innovation Drives $11M For NBA Tip-Off, Relo Metrics (August 12, 2020), https://blog.relometrics.com/sponsorship-innovation-drives-11m-for-nba-tip-off [10] Id. [11] Id. [12] Id. [13] Gentrup, supra. [14] Young, supra. [15] Sports Busines, https://uploads-sportbusiness.imgix.net/uploads/sites/5/2021/07/Screen-Shot-2021-07-11-at-10.03.12-PM.png?auto=compress,format&crop=faces,entropy,edges&fit=crop&w=1024&h=573 [16] Dan Devine, The Knicks Haven’t Been Garbage Lately. What Gives?, The Ringer (January 3, 2020), https://www.theringer.com/nba/2020/1/3/21048032/new-york-knicks-mike-miller-mitchell-robinson-julius-randle [17] Id. [18] NBA, https://cdn.nba.com/manage/2021/05/851A6BCC39EE34CDE9185A22E26F16632ADA2341.jpg [19] Laurient, supra. [20] Id. [21] Joe Flynn, Adam Silver Says NBA Jerseys Will ‘Most Likely’ Have Sponsor Ads Within 5 Years, Bleacher Report (March 19, 2014), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1999142-adam-silver-says-nba-jerseys-will-most-likely-have-sponsor-ads-within-5-years [22] Id. [23] Premier League, https://resources.premierleague.com/premierleague/photo/2016/09/01/bd69e053-789d-4895-abe6-fe67437ffa30/August-POTM.png [24] Louisa Thomas, The Virtuosity of Elene Delle Donne and the Drama of the W.N.B.A. Finals, The New Yorker (October 8, 2019), https://www.newyorker.com/sports/sporting-scene/the-virtuosity-of-elena-delle-donne-and-the-drama-of-the-wnba-finals [25] Id. [26] Id. [27] Flynn, supra. [28] Shea, supra. [29] Brian Thornsburg, Five Drivers NASCAR Fans Love to Hate the Most, Fox Sports (June 30, 2017), https://www.foxsports.com/stories/nascar/five-drivers-nascar-fans-love-to-hate-the-most