Sports Sponsorship’s Slippery Slope

June 15, 2009

Purists be damned: Corporate sponsorship is invading professional sports like never before.  Team uniforms in the major U.S. sports leagues have remained sponsor-free, but that is quickly changing as franchises seek additional revenue streams and sponsors look for increased visibility.

First, the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury sold sponsorship on the front of the team’s game jerseys to LifeLock for this season.  Next up: the NFL.  The league has passed a rule allowing teams to sell a 3.5″ x 4.5″ patch on their practice jerseys.  A number of teams, including the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, are reportedly close to securing deals.

If these recent events are any indication, we are on a slippery slope that just got coated with a few quarts of Lucas Oil, the official motor oil of the Indianapolis Colts.  The day of advertisements on game jerseys in the “big three” U.S. sports leagues is coming.  But will it be effective?

Packers senior vice president of marketing and sales Laura Sankey believes the practice jersey ads will be a “very meaningful” way for a sponsor to align with the team. “It’s always exciting when the league opens new categories for sponsorship, particularly one that is so closely linked to our players and our jerseys,” Sankey said. “A practice jersey patch is a very unique and visible way for a sponsor to be involved with training camp, the team and our fans.”

I’m guessing something similar was said when the first logo was slapped on an outfield wall at a baseball park.

Advertisers will surely receive an immediate boost in publicity – and backlash – for being among the first to jump on board.  But soon, it will just blend in like most of the branding scattered throughout the stadiums and arenas.

The fact is, a patch on a jersey cannot build a brand.  At best, it becomes an awareness play and that is not enough.  Effective sponsorship activation isn’t about generating impressions. It’s about generating lasting impressions. Instead of finding more creative ways to place their logo, marketers must find more creative ways to actively engage consumers with their sponsorship.