Thoughts on the D-League’s New Sponsored Jerseys

Updated: August 3, 2010
New Sponsored Jerseys for Erie and RGV

Left to Right: NBA D-League President Dan Reed, president, NBA Development League; Bert Garcia, president, Rio Grande Valley Vipers; Edna De Sar, first vice president and marketing director, Lone Star National Bank; David Stern, NBA Commissioner; Dr. Silvia Ferretti, D.O., provost and senior vice president, LECOM; and Matt Bresee, president, Erie BayHawks.

News broke yesterday that two D-League franchises have agreed to sponsorship deals that will place logos on the teams’ jerseys for the upcoming 2010-11 season. The Erie BayHawks agreed to a multi-year partnership with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers agreed to a sponsorship deal with Lone Star National Bank.

Unveiled yesterday, the newly designed jerseys will feature the sponsorship logos underneath the player numbers on the front of the jersey, but they will not replace the nickname or team name that appears on the home and away jerseys for either the BayHawks or the Vipers.

The benefits of sponsored jerseys are clearly financial. D-League teams are not household brand names like the Lakers, Celtics, or Bulls. And while financial details of the agreements were not mentioned, there is no question that allowing a sponsor to get their name on something as visible as a player jersey is a great source of income for franchises that are looking to find ways to become profitable.

Advertising/sponsorships in sports go hand in hand. Take a look at the boards of a hockey rink, the wall at a baseball game, or the JumboTron in your team’s favorite stadium, and you’re bound to find ads from a myriad of different sponsors. Yet for some people, making jersey space available for rent is going to far.

Imagine Peyton Manning dropping back to pass with a Gatorade lightning bolt in place of the blue Colt’s horseshoe. Or what if Kobe Bryant donned a forum blue and gold jersey with a red Staples logo at the Staples Center? It’s hard to picture.

But it’s not that way in all sports. In NASCAR, the sponsors have become the uniforms. And internationally, it’s pretty much the norm. Many of the most influential teams in the world of soccer bear a sponsor’s logo across their chest. Jerry Seinfeld was right. In the modern era of American sports, where players change teams about as often as they change socks, our loyalty is not to the people in the uniform, it’s to the uniform itself. In many ways, especially in the big four—NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL—we’ve been trained as a fan base to cheer for laundry. That’s why the concept of rooting for the DKNY Yankees or the Boston Red Roof In Sox just doesn’t seem to compute.

So, what are the implications of this move by the BayHawks and Vipers? My reactions and a chance for you to voice your opinion after the jump.

For starters, I don’t think fans of the teams in the NBA have anything to worry about right now. Commissioner David Stern is one of the shrewdest businessmen in sports, and I found it interesting that Rio Grande Valley Vipers President Bert Gercia said, “It is very important to us and [NBA] Commissioner [David] Stern to keep our identity intact,” referring to the fact that the new Vipers (and BayHawks) jerseys will maintain the name Vipers (and BayHawks/Erie) rather than removing them entirely like the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, who set the precedent by agreeing to a jersey sponsorship with LifeLock back in May. Stern understands that the D-League and WNBA are not in the same league with the NBA when it comes to fan recognition and brand viability.

Does this open the door to the possibility that a cash-strapped NBA franchise could try to push for a similar deal, offering their jersey space to a corporate partner? Yes, but I’d be surprised if that happened any time soon.

The partnerships work much better at the D-League level. The budget is tighter. Jersey sales aren’t a major concern. And it’s a good way for the team to connect within the community, forging relationships that could actually help grow the team’s brand despite giving up ad space on the jersey. With all of those factors in mind, it’s not a surprise that Dan Reed, president of the NBA Development League, tweeted last night that he believes there will be more of this to come. I’d be more concerned if they scrapped the team names entirely and replaced them with the corporate logos. As long as they keep this hybrid model that features the team name and sponsor’s name on the front of the jersey, I’m OK with it.

What do you think? Is it a good idea for D-League teams to sell jersey space to sponsors? Would it be OK for an NBA team to do it? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!


  1. Mike

    August 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I agree that this is no problem as long as they keep the name visible. The D-Leauge is a great tool that is slowly getting its feet underneath it as they improve the product and people see how truly effective it is at improving the skills of players entering the NBA. However, it is new and still largely unknown to the average sports fan, so it needs to get stable avenues of income to ensure it can firmy entrench itself.

    I’ll admit I don’t want to see this happen in the NBA due to tradition and nostalgia, but at this level the only thing that really matters is the quality of the games/players. As long as the D-Leauge continues to focus on becoming a legitamate gateway to develop and enter into the NBA, no one will care if the jerseys lose a little free space.

    • Matt Hubert

      August 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      Good stuff, Mike, well-articulated. Thanks for the comment and sharing your opinion! I agree with you that the primary focus needs to continue to be providing a quality product that appeals to fans and gets the attention of more and more NBA teams.

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