The Three-Year Pilot Episode

June 6, 2016

Television networks use pilot episodes to discover whether a show will be successful, with the full hope that the standalone will develop from an entertaining concept to a full-time series. After seeing the sample, networks will then determine if the expense of additional episodes is justified by the response from viewers and critics. According to Variety, only a quarter of all pilots made for American television proceed to the series stage.

On April 15, the NBA announced that the board of governors had approved a three-year “pilot program” to allow teams to sell a corporate logo on their jersey beginning in the 2017-18 season. The NBA’s 30 teams will be responsible for selling their own uniform sponsorships; the sponsor patches will measure about 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches and will be placed near the left chest area of the jerseys.

Advertising on sports jerseys is not a new concept to global sports, but American sport leagues have been tentative to adopt the practice. Several U.S. sports, such as Major League Soccer, racing, golf, and the WNBA, have all turned to advertising and sponsor logos on jerseys. However, the NFL, MLB and NFL have shied away, due to logistics in determining a revenue-sharing model.

Adam Silver, the NBA league commissioner, has long has been open to the possibility of ads on uniforms. In an April press conference, he said the league expects to generate $100 million in revenue from the sponsorships. The money will be counted as basketball-related income and, therefore, split with the players. Silver acknowledged that some fans were against the addition of sponsor logos to the uniforms, which made a trial-balloon debut in the 2016 All-Star game. To compromise, fans can purchase jerseys without the corporate logo, although teams will have the option of selling a version that includes the logo.

The question remains: How is the money disbursed? How much of the revenue will go toward the players as part of “basketball-related income”? Will that be negotiated with the players’ union? Will the added revenue allow the league to increase team payroll without raising ticket prices? Decreased ticket prices could lead to packed arenas and increased accessibility to games that the majority of fans could not afford to attend. The issue arises if the excess revenue is absorbed into daily operations, and has minimal effect on players or fans alike.

Silver’s closing comment rings with the uncertainty of this trial period: “But there’s a reason this is a pilot program. I mean, we listen very closely to our fans, and so we’ll see what the reaction is.” Remember, only a quarter of pilots proceed to the main stage. Check out Reddit user TheGreatImperialists’s concepts of NBA jerseys with the “most tolerable sponsor for each team’s home jersey that creates the least amount of agony.”