The NBA's Los Angeles Lakers in September announced Bibigo, a South Korean food brand, had become the team's new jersey sponsor. The deal is reportedly worth more than $100 million over a five-year period.
Typically, that amount of money is what corporations spend on naming rights for arenas or stadiums, not three-inch patches on player uniforms.
While NASCAR drivers have donned sponsors' logos on their uniforms for decades, the concept of teams using player uniforms as advertising space is fairly new with major professional sports leagues in the U.S., and it's gaining ground.
Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Wild announced partnership deals in the fall for jersey and helmet ad placements. The Wild are fielding inquiries for jersey sponsors.
"We've already had brands reach out to us, unsolicited, so we know there's demand," said Carin Anderson, Minnesota Wild's senior vice president of corporate partnerships and retail management. "It creates a brand new opportunity for us at an unprecedented level as it related to a marquee asset."
The Minnesota United has had a deal with Target Corp. for jersey sponsorship since it joined Major League Soccer in 2017, said Bryant Pfeiffer, the team's chief revenue officer.
Some of the biggest leagues in the U.S., however, have been slow to adopt that form of advertising. Major League Baseball has not approved helmet or jersey advertising, leaving the Twins unable to venture into jersey or helmet deals.
The NFL does not yet allow teams to sell jersey patches or helmet decals ads for game-day jerseys. Teams can, however, sell ads for practice jerseys.
Training Haus — an athletic training and rehabilitation facility and service operated by Twin Cities Orthopedics, the Vikings' training facility sponsor — became the team's practice jersey partner in 2021.
Meanwhile, European soccer teams have used jersey sponsorships for more than 20 years. The 2020-2021 European soccer season brought in nearly $1.6 billion in sponsorship revenue, said Jon Stainer of Nielsen Sports, the New York-based sports intelligence company.
The Timberwolves this fall announced a multi-year partnership with Aura, a provider of digital security for consumers, while the Wild announced existing partner Twin Cities Toyota Dealers had become a multi-year exclusive partner for helmet ad placements.
Terms of both deals were not disclosed. But according to Navigate, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment consulting firm, NBA jersey patch deals are going to market in the $5 million to $20 million range, and across the NHL, helmet ad placement deals range from $1 million to $10 million.
Over the course of the 2020-2021 regular seasons, uniform sponsor placements accounted for 3.1% of the total media value generated for the Wild through all sponsorship assets that are visible during game broadcasts, which is about the league average, and 16.6% for Minnesota United, which is just below average for teams playing in Major League Soccer, according to Nielsen's Sport24 service, which measures and quantifies brand exposure during game broadcasts in terms of exposure time on screen and clarity of logos.
Since 2017, the NBA has allowed teams to sell advertising patches on the left shoulder of team jerseys. The WNBA, meanwhile, has had partner branding on jerseys since 2011. Mayo Clinic has been the marquee presenting sponsor of the Minnesota Lynx jersey since 2014, while Atlanta-based digital health company Sharecare has been the jersey patch partner since 2019.
The NBA's patch program has generated over $150 million since 2017, according to industry reports.
Nielsen's Sport24 data for the Timberwolves was not available since the team did not have a jersey patch for the 2020-2021 season. Fitbit, the electronics and fitness company owned by Google, reportedly paid $3 million per year to be the first exclusive jersey patch partner of the Timberwolves, according to SportsPro Media. The 2019-20 season was the final year of the Fitbit partnership.
In addition to being the official jersey partner of the Timberwolves, Aura will also be the official digital security provider for the Timberwolves and will have the title of season presenting partner, along with in-arena and on-court signage.
"They will go wherever we go, home or away games, so fans in other markets, either in the arena or watching from home, will be exposed to those brands," said Ryan Tanke, chief operating officer for the Timberwolves.
Aura's name also will be placed on the jerseys of T-Wolves Gaming players, the Wolves' e-sports NBA 2K franchise, marking the first time the gaming franchise has had a jersey sponsor, Tanke said.
The NHL in 2020 allowed teams to sell advertising placements on helmets so brand partners could recoup some of their investments with teams that were playing in empty arenas due to COVID. Those placements brought in $100 million in revenue among NHL teams, according to Sportico.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, the naming rights holder to the Wild's home arena in St. Paul, was the first to have a Wild helmet decal under that pilot. The league extended the helmet program, and the Wild made the deal with Twin Cities Toyota Dealers.
"To have the opportunity as a brand to embed yourself with the player likeness, it's a unique opportunity and connects you to the high-performance athlete that consumers are paying attention to during play," said the Wild's Anderson.
In late 2021, the NHL Board of Governors approved allowing teams to sell advertising patches on player jerseys for the 2022-23 season. The official team jersey sold in the Wild store at Xcel Energy arena will have the new jersey patch, Anderson said.
Beginning in the 2020 season, MLS allowed teams to sell patches on the sleeve of a jersey as well as the front. Minnesota United is having conversations with a few companies about selling ad placement on the jersey sleeve, said Pfeiffer, the chief revenue officer.
Ad placement on soccer jerseys has the potential to drive meaningful revenue for Minnesota United , Pfeiffer said. It also allows the soccer club to partner with emerging categories of tech companies that soared during the pandemic.
Though it does not present the same exposure as game-day uniforms for NBA, NHL and MLS players, corporate identities on NFL practice jerseys receive broad exposure during training camps, which draw thousands of fans and are widely covered by media outlets.
And with more than 90 players in training camp being recorded and photographed, corporate identity on those jerseys results in significant exposure, said John Penhollow, chief revenue officer for the Vikings.
"It can roll into a pretty significant amount of exposure for them when it's all said and done," Penhollow said.
The Training Haus patch on the Vikings practice jersey remains throughout regular season, Penhollow said.
If the NFL permits patches on game-day jerseys or helmet stickers, it will significantly change sports marketing deals, Nielson Sports' Stainer said.
Kim Sovell, an adjunct instructor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, says the new revenue stream may be included in future equations that determine how teams are valued.
Entering 2021, the Vikings' value rose 14%, year over year, to $3.35 billion, according to Forbes. The Timberwolves' worth rose 2% to $1.4 billion, and the Wild's 35% to $675 million. Minnesota United was valued at $520 million, according to Sportico, up from $300 million in 2019.
Given the revenue opportunities of jersey patch and helmet sticker placements, partnership deals of that nature will be commonplace in American pro sports, said Sovell, who compared such placements to banner ads on the internet.
"We may not necessarily be consciously aware of the logo helmet or jersey patch, but it is beginning to build familiarity with everybody whose subconscious sees that," she said.