By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
May 11, 2016
Mr. Adam Silver, Commissioner
National Basketball Association
645 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Dear Mr. Silver:
Congratulations! A major part of your legacy will now be “the first commissioner of one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States to start the process of NASCARizing player uniforms.”
I’m sure you must be proud.
The big question is how much money is enough, Mr. Silver? According to a Forbes report, the average NBA franchise is now worth $1.25 billion, an increase of 13 percent over last season. That follows a 74 percent gain in value the previous year, due to the signing of big new TV deals.
Given this astonishing growth, are you really willing to deface your league’s brand, and those of each team — including iconic uniforms like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers — with corporate ads?
Yes, we understand you’re starting small, with corporate ads initially limited to a small patch on NBA uniforms. But given that your league’s operating philosophy appears to be “profit-at-all-costs,” the chances that the commercialization of team uniforms will stop with a simple patch would seem to be slim and none.
Based on the NBA’s crass commercialization in recent years, and the fact that you have now slapped ads on every aspect of an NBA game, it’s clear that the greed of your league’s owners knows no bounds. Attending an NBA game today means, in essence, having to endure a three-hour commercial.
From the time fans enter league arenas — many of them built with taxpayer dollars — they are bombarded with non-stop commercial messaging. From the corporate name on the arena itself, to the ads on the scoreboards and the scorer’s table, to video ads during timeouts and halftimes, every line of sight is blocked with advertisements. One’s ears can’t escape the overt commercialization either as the typical NBA PA announcer shares more commercial messages than game information today.
Back in 2012, when you were David Stern’s deputy commissioner and the NBA was first exploring the idea of selling ad space on uniforms, you told The New York Times that “some of our fans will think we’ve lost our minds.”
Well, that’s definitely true. A lot of fans — and former players — indeed think you’ve lost your minds, and your scruples. Imagine how Celtics great Bill Russell or Lakers legend Jerry West — the man whose silhouette is the focal point of the NBA logo — must feel about the possibility of McDonald’s golden arches on the jerseys they used to wear so proudly?
Based on your earlier comment about some fans thinking you and the franchise owners have lost your minds, we have to think that deep down you’re concerned where all this could be heading …
Will you soon begin to charge more for an ad on the chest of the Golden State Warriors’ MVP Steph Curry vs. an ad on the chest of the Warrior’s 12th man? How will you get every NBA player to agree to be human billboards for products they might not believe in or companies they don’t trust?
Since going forward you will be known as “The Ads-On-the-Uniform Commissioner,” I’m sure you’ve considered the possibility that this new money grab could ultimately result in negative brand equity for the NBA. For example, is it good business for a league that is comprised of highly fit athletes to have the logo of fast food restaurants, soft drink companies or junk food manufacturers on its uniforms?
Maybe you’re thinking that you will only take uniform ads from “highly reputable” companies that are compatible with the league’s mission. But today’s “reputable” companies may be mired in ethical or legal scandals tomorrow (See Enron, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Volkswagen, Toshiba, etc.)
What is it Mr. Silver? Do you simply consider playing Russian Roulette with the league’s brand an exciting activity?
Back in 2012, when the league first publicly considered uniform ads, we asked Mr. Stern if he was open to also putting ads on his suits and those of the league’s owners. He didn’t respond. What say you? You could probably get a nice check for ads on your suits.
For a profit-at-all-costs organization such as yours, the possibilities for additional ad revenue are really endless.
Finally, a word to your current and potential advertisers and sponsors: Be very careful about putting your logo on NBA uniforms. It could very well negatively impact your brand. In fact, you risk having your brand stigmatized. There are millions of sports fans that are fed up with the increasing commercialization of everything in the world of sports. If you’re thinking about being the first company to slap a logo on NBA uniforms, beware of the potential consumer backlash.
Mr. Silver, one of your first big moves as commissioner of the NBA was to cut a multi-million dollar deal with the gambling-related company Fan Duel. Now, you’re hawking ad space on the league’s uniforms. You are clearly on the path of hyper-commercialization. Anything for a buck. Is this the legacy you want to leave?
As commissioner, you have a choice every day when you go to work: Pure unadulterated greed or protecting the great game of basketball’s integrity.
It’s clear what your choice has been to date. However, it’s early in your tenure as NBA commissioner. A course correction is still possible. You can begin to choose protecting the soul and spirit of the game over unabashed ego and greed.
If you decide to move toward an alternative legacy, here’s a suggested first step: Stand up to your owners and say, “No, we’re not going to start putting ads on our uniforms. It’s simply not in the best interests of our sport.”
Now that would be an action that fans, former players, and other stakeholders of the game could applaud.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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