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% over last season. That follows a 74% 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 12 th 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? The NBA commissioner and league owners are some of the most recognizable people in sports. 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.
Unfortunately, we doubt that you will take this action on your own. As such, we feel it’s necessary to launch a wide-ranging fan advocacy campaign against this blatant strategy of overcommercialization.
Founder, League of Fans
Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Consumer Federation of America
National Consumers League
Congressional Progressive Caucus
Gary Ruskin, U.S. Right to Know
Dave Zirin, Edge of Sports
Patrick Hruby, VICE Sports
Robert Lipsyte, sports journalist/author
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon