September 14, 2012
Mr. David Stern, Commissioner
National Basketball Association
645 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Dear Mr. Stern:
Is there anything in the National Basketball Association (NBA) that’s not for sale?
The news that the NBA is “excited about the opportunity” to put corporate ads on NBA uniforms, as early as the 2013-14 season, is crass commercialization at its worst, and a blatant back of the hand to the sensibilities of American basketball fans.
It’s bad enough that you’ve sold off the names of the taxpayer-financed arenas that NBA teams play in to corporate marketers, but now you’re seriously considering dumping all the history and tradition associated with iconic uniforms like the Boston Celtics’ and Los Angeles Lakers’ in the quest for more corporate ad revenue. That’s truly over-reaching.
Mr. Stern, do you really want part of your legacy to be “the first commissioner of one of the four major team sports leagues in the country to start the NASCARization of player uniforms?”
Fans already have to put up with non-stop advertising the second they enter an NBA arena. It’s sensory overload. No line of sight is free from commercial messaging. Every timeout is viewed by team franchises as simply a chance to bombard fans with more corporate ads. And now you might put a Burger King or Bank of America logo next to the “Lakers” script on team uniforms?
Speaking of fans, do you ever consider asking fans what they think of ideas like these? You give lip service to being “fan-friendly” and then you proceed to make decisions that are clearly anti-fan, all in the name of a greedy grab for more dollars. This move would take a lot more fun out of the game for fans and lead to significant fan resentment and protests.
Adam Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, told the New York Times a few months ago, “If we add sponsor logos to jerseys, we recognize that some of our fans will think we’ve lost our minds.”
Well, yes Mr. Silver, a lot of fans will think you’ve lost your minds, along with your scruples. Please do not think the fans will roll over on this move.
Pro basketball is more than a business; it’s become a cultural phenomenon in this country. It’s not your typical widgets business. Fans and players have a deep passion for the game.
However, since you seem to be looking at basketball solely as a business, let’s talk business Mr. Stern.
We know you value the equity associated with the NBA brand. So, have you seriously considered the potential negative ramifications for your brand if you slap the logo of companys like McDonald’s on team uniforms? Do you want basketball, an excellent cardiovascular exercise, linked with companies that are driving the obesity epidemic in America?
Or what about the taint to your brand — and the famous NBA logo which sports the silhouette of NBA great Jerry West — when the advertiser on your league’s uniforms gets publicity for ethical and legal scandals, or other public controversies? Consider what having AIG, Goldman Sachs, or Merrill Lynch on NBA uniforms might have done to your brand equity….
I’m sure you and your colleagues will do your due diligence on any potential corporate partner wanting to slap their name and logo on your jerseys. But in effect, you’ll be playing Russian Roulette with your brand. Take a look at all the companies whose names once adorned our country’s stadiums and arenas and then fell from grace. I’m sure Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros ownership group thought they did their due diligence on Enron before giving their blessing to the name Enron Field.
What about the great players from the past who have worn these uniforms? Do you think Bill Russell will feel the same sense of pride in wearing the Boston Celtics uniform during all his championship seasons if the Aetna logo is soon to be sewn on the famous Celtics uniforms?
If you, and the league’s owners, decide to severely damage the tradition of NBA basketball by putting ads on player uniforms, let us suggest another revenue stream for you: sell add space on your own suits! Can you imagine how much revenue the league could garner for a nice corporate ad on David Stern’s suit? You’re one of the most visible and recognizable men in sports, Mr. Stern. Think about what an Exxon Mobil ad on your lapel might be worth. Or, perhaps, an ad on your derriere for Scott Tissue Paper. Everything’s for sale, right?
Reportedly, the decision regarding whether or not to add corporate ads to NBA uniforms will be made within the month. At its essence, this is a choice between pure unadulterated greed and protecting the remaining integrity of the game.
Having arenas plastered on the inside and out with corporate ads and logos is one thing but putting those same ads on uniforms is a completely different step. It’s a step that you should refuse to take.
But if you do, here’s a suggestion: change your league’s initials from NBA to EFS (Everything’s for Sale). It would be a more candid representation because greed will have completely trumped better judgment as your league’s focus.
Founder, League of Fans
Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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