Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity


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Is There Room for Sports to Get Even More Commercialized?

This article by Pinsker (2016) does a great job declaring from the start that sponsorships on jerseys are inevitable. This is understandable because an extra $5 million for the Philadelphia 76ers is hard to turn down for something as simple as a small logo on the left chest/shoulder of the jersey. When thinking specifically about the NHL I see several teams (Winnipeg, Arizona, Florida) that would love to have the extra revenue to help either on the business side or hockey side. However, one area that I think the article discounts quite easily is the impact fans have on professional sports. Looking at the Detroit Red Wings as an example they recently opened their new arena, Little Caesars Arena, in October 2017. Moving from the legendary Joe Louis Arena (named after Detroit boxer Joe Louis) to an arena attached to corporate sponsorship was met with negative backlash (Pevos, 2017) from fans of the Red Wings and NHL fans in general (especially when the Little Caesar’s logo was placed on the roof). The deal was final so there was nothing Detroit could do about it, but this should illustrate that the implementation of corporate sponsorship into aspects of sport that are not accustomed to them will receive a negative reaction from fans. I know the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens could put virtually anything on their jerseys and still make huge profits, but what if the Florida Panthers upset their fans or the Arizona Coyotes?

The notion that there will be sponsorships on North American professional sports jerseys in the future has been troubling to most fans. One possible reason for this is that even though professional sports franchises are for profit enterprises, the illusion that professional sports is about competition and athleticism still exists among most fans. From the fans perspective the jersey is a part of their identity, both physically and subjectively. Jerseys are part of their identity physically in the sense that fans can buy and wear “their” teams jersey and subjectively because the identifiable aspects of their fandom include the jersey (logo, colours, etc.). As stated by Pinsker the jersey is the last untapped frontier of revenue in US sports. The fact that this is one of the few aspects of sport that is still sacred without commercialized interest’s means that it will be a tough sell to fans, many of whom believe sport is too commercialized as it is.

As Nauright and White (2002) noted nostalgia is a key way that sports media markets to fans because nostalgia removes the pain of the past and focuses on positive memories. Nostalgia implicates a sense on innocence and by adding sponsorships to jerseys the argument could be made that some of that innocence is lost. Personally simply the image of jerseys from the past gives me a sense of nostalgia and I do not know if sponsorships on the jerseys would taint that feeling. The other pressing matter to consider is that in a North American context any additions to jerseys were either to signify leaders on teams or honour those from the past that may no longer be with us. If the NHL implements sponsorships onto jerseys will the ‘C’ be altered in anyway on Sidney Crosby’s jersey? If they place it on the right side of their chest what happens when a figure such as Jean Beliveau passes away? In what way will they honour that person? These questions will need to be answered by professional leagues and will then need to be justified to players, fans, and alumni.

Drawing from Ziegler (2011) as well I have to wonder what this extra money would be used for. If the 76ers are getting $5 million to have the Stubhub logo on their jersey will they then not require as much public funding for new arenas? This extra revenue could supplement a reduction in ticket prices, concessions, or improve the community engagement initiatives from these teams. Using one of these as a primary reason to obtain these sponsorships could ease the transition for some fans, but there will still be some that see this as purely as a cash grab by for profit organizations. Ziegler’s main argument against sport is that professional sport has not been used to serve as a public good as it was intended. I have to believe that adding sponsorships onto jerseys for the sole purpose of increasing revenue will further validate his opinion.

One aspect of this debate that was not brought up in the article was the corporate sponsorship that happens at the grassroots level of sport. There is no backlash from fans when their local team’s jerseys are sponsored by McDonalds or Tim Horton’s so why is it such a travesty at the professional level? The argument can be made that these teams are in need of money and that justifies the massive amounts of sponsorships both on the jersey and part of the team name. As a native of PEI I have grown accustomed to sponsorship throughout local sport, for instance the two Major Midget hockey teams on PEI are: the Charlottetown Bulk Carrier’s Pride and the Kensington Monaghan Farm’s Wild. This article does mention the Philippines Basketball Association having a numerous sponsorships as revenue is hard to come by in non-major leagues. This is similar to an observation I have made about the National Basketball League of Canada. The teams in this league have sponsorships on the jerseys, but when revenue is at this low of a level then increasing their jersey sponsorship similarly to NASCAR or European basketball or hockey could help the league maintain consistent revenue sources.

In conclusion I believe that sponsorships on jerseys are inevitable, but professional franchises should be transparent and explain to their stakeholders why this is important and what the money will be used for. With this strategy I believe fans will be more accepting of change and will endorse the brand similarly to NASCAR supporters.

References:

Nauright, J., & White, P. (2002). Mediated Nostalgia, Community and Nation: The CFL in Crisis and the Demise of the Ottawa Roughriders. Sport History Review, 33, 121-137.

Pevos, E. (2017, July 12). Giant pizza man on Little Caesars Arena roof not going over well withfans. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2017/07/giant_guy_on_little_caesars_ar.html

Pinsker, J. (2016, June 13). Is There Room for Sports to Get Even More Commercialized? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/future-corporate-sports-sponsorhip/486569/

Zeigler, E. (2011). Sport As a Key Partner in the “Big Four’s Reign” in the Western World? International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation & Tourism.