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NBA could cash in on uniform prestige
League chief hints ban on ads may be relaxed
The National Basketball Association, which bans advertising on team uniforms, may consider easing that ban, a move that could open a new revenue stream as the average player salary approaches $5 million a year.
The news comes as NASCAR's logo-laden drivers and cars have converged in Charlotte for Race Weeks. Such advertising has long been part of NASCAR's corporate culture.
The recent comments by NBA Commissioner David Stern mark the first time basketball's chief has said he'd consider the policy change, which is being pushed by some teams.
"I don't doubt it will eventually happen, but at a price that recognizes that value," Stern said. Stern said the league's teams lost money this season, though he wouldn't be specific.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and New Jersey Nets Chief Executive Brett Yormark are among team executives who say it's time to stop treating uniforms as commercial-free zones.
"If it were up to me, they would already be there," Cuban, whose $87 million payroll this season was second to the New York Knicks, said in an e-mail interview.
The Charlotte Bobcats haven't heard anything from the league about a possible rule relaxation on uniform advertising, said Chris Weiller, the team's executive vice president of marketing and communications. "The Bobcats take their direction on what marks can be placed on the uniform by the league," he said "and the team has not had any discussion with the league about it."
The NBA has the most restrictive uniform advertising policy of the four major North American team sports. The National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League allow uniform makers to include a logo.
No U.S. sport embraces commercialism more than NASCAR.
A primary sponsorship of a team in the Nextel Cup, NASCAR's top series, costs about $20 million a season.
"It's part of racing's DNA," said Yormark, who joined the Nets in January after working as NASCAR's vice president of corporate marketing. "It's foreign to the stick and ball sports."
Yormark said he not only supports uniform sponsors, he'd be willing to sell the name of the franchise, too.
"Wherever the Nets went, the company would go," he said.
Yormark declined to speculate how much such an arrangement would generate for the money-losing Nets, who are planning a move to Brooklyn, N.Y., for the 2008-09 season. "It'd be incredible," is all he would say.
In Europe, corporate logos dominate the shirts of most soccer teams.
London team Chelsea, the Premiership champion, last month signed a five-year, $100 million jersey sponsorship with Samsung Electronics Co. It's the biggest jersey contract in English soccer, according to London-based sponsorship consultant Redmandarin.
Companies would inundate NBA teams with offers if uniform advertising were permitted, said Eric Wright, a vice president at Joyce Julius & Associates, which gauges the value of sports sponsorships. Sponsors would reap as much as $20 million a year in free advertising when their logos appear on TV or print media and even more on replica jerseys sold in stores.
"Not only would the players be billboards, but the fans would be, too," Wright said.
Even though Stern would consider allowing uniform sponsors, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison said he doesn't expect there to be a change in presentation anytime soon.
"The league wants to maintain a certain look," said Arison, the 55-year-old chief executive of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise line. "I don't know if there's enough support to change that right now."
If the check is big enough, it will gain support, said Jimmy Schaeffler, a media analyst with the Carmel Group in Monterey, Calif.
"The wave of commercialism continues to break at the shore of the team purists," he said. "In the end, the almighty dollar is very powerful and hard to resist."