The big sponsorship story around the new basketball season is the NBA’s deal with long-standing partner Kia that will see a brand plastered across players’ shirts for the first time in US Big Four sports league history.
The devil, as ever, is in the detail and the auto sponsor’s rights are restricted to a 3-inch logo placed on the upper left of the chest just for the 2016 All-Star uniforms.
The deal, which sees Kia have exclusive jersey patch rights for the 2016 and 2017 All-Star games, was actually agreed between the car brand and NBA broadcast partner Turner TNT – which itself had secured the rights to sell shirt ads from the NBA during last year’s extension contract negotiations that saw the media outfit sign up until the 2025/26 NBA season.
Financial details were not disclosed and the kit deal is wrapped up in Kia’s umbrella package during its upfront media negotiations.
Kia is not only an official NBA sponsor, but it also regularly runs commercials during Turner TNT game coverage and sponsors the channels’ ‘Inside the NBA’ post-game studio show.
Kia was quick to sign-up once it relaised a kit logo was in play.
‘We quickly raised our hand and it was an easy decision for us,” said Kia Motors USA VP of marketing communications Tim Chaney.
‘[A fan backlash] could happen, but we weren’t and aren’t concerned about it at all. We want to be part of the conversation and we think something like this puts us in the conversation. NBA fans are progressive, just like the league. They are intelligent. They are passionate.” And if that passion results “in a little bit of a conversation and debate about this — that’s OK.”
The logo may be small, nevertheless, the US shirt sponsor dam has finally burst?
This minor deal may lead to major changes in the way that the major North American sports leagues drive commercial partner revenues.
It is not that the NBA, nor its franchises are in desperate need for new cash.
After all, the league just signed a record-breaking, $24bn, nine-year domestic TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports which will start next season.
Then, the following year, the league’s record breaking $1bn Nike uniform deal will kick in. This too will see the Nike swoosh on the uniforms.
It’s just that shirt sponsorship deals are simply inevitable because of the vast piles of potential revenue involved.
After all, Manchester United’s record breaking shirt sponsorship with Chevrolet is valued at a whopping $560m of seven years.
Which sports teams are going to voluntary turn down £47m per year?
Of course, initially there will be a tidal wave of complaints from sports fans across the country preaching about the integrity of the uniform, the purity of a partner-free kit and how the brand and the sport’s spirit will be eroded by sponsor shirt signage.
And they may well have a point.
But global sports partnerships outside the USA show that this change is not only irresistible, but also they suggest that after a year or two fans will accept it as normal.
So in the coming years we might see some of the major NBA sponsors signing shirt deals and, in the meantime, here are some of our favourite commercial partner activations around the new season:
Kia’s Blake Griffin-led ‘Next Level’
Bank of Montreal’s naivety is the new autheenticity ‘Bank That Knows Ball’,
Foot Locker’s inventive ‘Play My Tweet’ with James Harden,
Philadelphia 76ers ‘Revolution – Since 1776’,
and the league’s own ‘This Is Why We Play’.