By Ken Reed

When it comes to pro sports in the United States you can count on one thing: profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) thinking will drive decision-making.

The NBA recently announced that its team jerseys, including the iconic uniforms of the Celtics and Lakers, will now have ads on them. Glory be, NBA basketball courts will now start resembling NASCAR race tracks!

It’s now completely clear — as if it wasn’t before — that everything in the NBA is for sale. Nothing is sacred. I imagine the strategy of placing corporate ads on NBA jerseys can now be found in the NBA Policy Handbook under the section entitled, “Pure Unadulterated Greed.”

In 2012, as part of a campaign to stop ads on NBA uniforms, League of Fans wrote an open letter regarding the “ads on jerseys” idea to then commissioner David Stern. Here is an excerpt that remains relevant today:

“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 … 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.”

For now, the NBA says ads on uniforms will be limited to a small patch on the front of jerseys. But where does it stop?

“How much money is enough?,” asks Marina Mangiaracina in an SB Nation opinion piece.

“There’s a thin ring of video board surrounding the inside of the arena, with the sole purpose of throwing moving advertisements at you. Ads for Homeland or Dub Richardson are constantly flying at you on the big screen. The entire upper section of the bowl is named after Loves. Heck, sometimes regular commercials will play before and after the game on the big screen. And it’s not like we’re getting this product for free. Concession prices are outrageous by restaurant standards, and the cheapest seat in the house is going to cost you $15. If all of this wasn’t enough, they’ve actually engineered the game to unnaturally stop to allow for TV commercials and in-arena events. And when you get right down to it, in-arena events are just glorified commercials.”

What can fans do? Well, fans can push back on Twitter (#NoUniAds), but perhaps the only thing that can ultimately save us is the community ownership model for pro sports franchises. Do you think the Green Bay Packers, a regional treasure owned by the team’s fans through a community stock ownership plan, would agree to debase the famous Packers jersey by putting Taco Bell ads on the jerseys? I think not.

Unfortunately, the NFL owners, seeing how community ownership could hurt their greedy ways, have banned the community ownership model in the league’s bylaws. They don’t want any more Green Bay Packers-style franchises in the league.

Overturning that policy will likely take Congressional action. But that’s a topic for another day.

Today is for mourning the loss of the last commercial-free piece of professional sports in the United States: team uniforms.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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