The Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA announced in September that Bibigo, a South Korean food brand, became the team’s new sponsor. The deal is reportedly worth more than $100 million over five years.
Typically, that amount of money is what companies spend on naming rights for arenas or stadiums, not three-inch spots on a player’s uniform.
While NASCAR drivers have worn sponsors’ logos on their uniforms for decades, the concept of teams using a player’s uniform as advertising space is fairly new with the major professional sports leagues in the United States, and it is gaining ground.
Minnesota Timberwolves and Wild announced partnership deals in the fall for T-shirt and helmet ad placements. The Wild is making inquiries for T-shirt sponsors.
“We already have brands coming to us, without demand, so we know there is demand,” said Karen Anderson, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and retail management at Minnesota Wild. “It creates a whole new opportunity for us on an unprecedented level in terms of its connection to a rectangular origin.”
Bryant Pfeiffer, the team’s chief revenue officer, said Minnesota United has struck a deal with Target Corp to sponsor the jersey since joining Major League Soccer in 2017.
However, some of the largest leagues in the United States have been slow to adopt this form of advertising. Major League Baseball has not agreed to advertise the helmet or jersey, leaving the Twins unable to enter into jersey or helmet deals.
The NFL does not yet allow teams to sell jersey patches or helmet badges ads for a game day jersey. However, teams can sell ads for training jerseys.
Training Haus – an athletic training and rehabilitation facility and service operated by Twin Cities Orthopedics, the sponsor of the Vikings training facility – became the team’s exercise partner in 2021.
Meanwhile, European soccer teams have used shirt sponsorship for more than 20 years. John Steiner of Nielsen Sports, the New York-based sports intelligence firm, said the 2020-2021 European football season brought in nearly $1.6 billion in sponsorship revenue.
This fall, The Timberwolves announced a multi-year partnership with Aura, a consumer digital security provider, while Wild announced that its current partner Twin Cities Toyota has become an exclusive multi-year partner for helmet ad placements.
Terms of both deals were not disclosed. But according to Navigate, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment consultancy, NBA jersey patch deals will be marketed in the $5 million to $20 million range, and across the NHL, helmet ad placement deals range from $1 million to $10 million.
Over the 2020-2021 regular seasons, sponsoring seasons took 3.1% of media value for Wild, which is about the league average, and 16.6% for Minnesota United, which is just below the average for teams playing in Major League Soccer according to For Nielsen’s Sport24 service, which measures and measures brand exposure during game broadcasts in terms of screen time and clarity of logos.
Since 2017, the National Basketball Association has allowed teams to sell advertising patches on the left shoulder of a team’s jerseys. Meanwhile, the WNBA has had a partner brand on T-shirts since 2011. Mayo Clinic has been the official Minnesota Lynx T-shirt sponsor since 2014, while Atlanta-based digital health company Sharecare has been T-shirt patch partner since 2019.
The NBA patch program has made more than $150 million since 2017, according to industry reports.
Nielsen’s Sport24 data for Timberwolves was not available because the team did not have a jersey patch for the 2020-2021 season. Fitbit, the Google-owned electronics and fitness company, is said to have paid $3 million a year to be the Timberwolves’ first sports jersey exclusive, according to SportsPro Media. The 2019-20 season was the final year for the Fitbit partnership.
In addition to being the official jersey partner of the Timberwolves, Aura will also be the official digital security provider for the Timberwolves and will be named Presenting Partner of the Season, along with on-pitch and on-court banners.
“They’re going to go wherever we go, whether at home or outside, so fans in other markets, whether in the arena or watching from home, will be exposed to these brands,” said Ryan Tank, Timberwolves’ chief operating officer.
Aura’s name will also be placed on the jerseys of players from T-Wolves Gaming, Wolves’s e-sports NBA 2K franchise, the first time the gaming franchise has had a shirt sponsor, Tanki said.
The NHL in 2020 allowed teams to sell ad placements on helmets so that brand partners could recoup some of their investment with teams that had been playing in empty yards due to COVID. Those placements brought in $100 million in revenue among NHL teams, according to Sportico.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy was the holder of the naming rights to Wild’s home yard in St. Paul, the first to receive a Wild helmet label under this pilot. The league extended the helmet program, and Wild struck the deal with Toyota Twin Cities dealers.
“For the opportunity as a brand to embed yourself in the player image is a unique opportunity and connect you with the high-performance athlete that consumers are paying attention to as they play,” said Wild’s Anderson.
In late 2021, the NHL Board of Governors agreed to allow teams to sell ad patches on player shirts for the 2022-23 season. Anderson said the official team jersey sold at the Wild Store at Xcel Energy Arena will feature the new jersey patch.
Beginning in the 2020 season, MLS has allowed teams to sell patches on the shirt sleeve as well as on the front. Pfeiffer, the chief revenue officer, said Minnesota United is in talks with a few companies about selling ad placement on jersey sleeves.
Pfeiffer said placing advertising on soccer jerseys has the potential to generate meaningful revenue for Minnesota United. It also allows the football club to partner with emerging classes of technology companies that have risen during the pandemic.
Although they do not offer the same exposure to game-day uniforms for NBA, NHL, and MLS players, corporate identities on NFL training jerseys receive wide exposure during training camps, attracting thousands of fans and widely covered by the media.
With more than 90 players signed up for training camp and photographed, the corporate identity on those T-shirts is leading to significant exposure, said John Penholo, Vikings chief revenue officer.
“It can turn into a very, very high exposure to them when all is said and done,” Penhollow said.
Penholo said the Training House patch on the Vikings training jersey was still present throughout the regular season.
If the NFL allows patches to be placed on game day shirts or helmet stickers, Nielson Sports’ Stainer said, it would lead to a major change in sports marketing deals.
Kim Soville, assistant professor of marketing at St. Thomas University, says the new revenue stream may be included in future equations that determine how teams are evaluated.
Entering 2021, the value of the Vikings is up 14%, year-over-year, to $3.35 billion, according to Forbes. Timberwolves’ value rose 2% to $1.4 billion, and Wild’s value increased 35% to $675 million. Minnesota United was valued at $520 million, according to Sportico, up from $300 million in 2019.
Sovell, who has compared such placements to online banner ads, said that given the revenue opportunities from jersey and helmet label placements, partnership deals of this kind would be common in American professional sports.
“We may not necessarily be aware of the logo helmet or the shirt patch, but we’re starting to build familiarity with everyone who subconsciously sees it,” she said.