Sports fans know as well as anyone that marketing, like nature, abhors a vacuum. On practically every previously unmarked surface in stadiums and arenas—floors, walls, fences, scoreboards—corporate sponsors have planted their flags.
So it was only natural that one of the last unclaimed surfaces in a major U.S. sports league recently made way for an advertisement. Last month, for the price of $5 million, the Philadelphia 76ers agreed to place a small patch with StubHub’s logo on its jerseys, an inch or two above the hearts of each its players.
As the first team to broker such a deal, the Sixers got some good publicity for their marketing savvy, but other teams are likely not far behind. “I probably think there's another five or six deals, if they're not done, they just haven't been announced, or they're very close to being announced,” says Bill Sutton, a professor of sport and entertainment management at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business.
Sutton has long been expecting on-jersey advertisements in the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, and the NHL. In one of the Powerpoint decks he uses for lectures, he has for years been including crudely photoshopped images of athletes such as Derek Jeter and LeBron James wearing logo-bedecked jerseys, in order to give students a glimpse of the future. For the NBA, Sutton says, “It'll be unanimous pretty quickly—don't worry about that. And then it'll change probably within three years to the whole jersey.” He thinks the NHL will be next.