‘Your Ad Here’ NBA Takes a Shot with Creative Advertising

Ahhh…the end of fall. Leaves have vanished from trees and lawns, the holidays are approaching, and both the drive to and from work consist of complete and utter darkness. That can only mean one thing – basketball season.

If you’re from northeast Ohio, this is likely your favorite time of the year. Not because you enjoy scraping ice and snow off your car, or having to make small talk with great uncle Tony at Thanksgiving.

No, it’s because of LeBron James, LBJ, the King, or whatever moniker you refer to him as. He’s the man that brought a championship back to The Land, and makes us all feel a little bit better about the Cleveland Browns. And with the Browns currently sitting at 0-9, seeing LeBron do things like this has been refreshing, to say the least.

What you may not realize is that something looks a little different this year with the NBA, in particular, the players’ jerseys. At a quick glance, you may miss this subtle change, but pay close attention the next time a player is shooting a free throw or standing around during a timeout, and you’ll notice a somewhat inconsequential, 2.5″ x 2.5″ sponsored patch on their left shoulder.

So far, these patches have consisted of company logos ranging from Goodyear’s iconic Wingfoot on the Cavs’ jerseys, to the lesser-known software company Infor’s logo on the Brooklyn Nets’ jerseys. Here’s the full list.

Of course, these patches have already raised eyebrows, both from fans and potential sponsors. “I don’t want a company logo on my favorite player’s jersey,” fans might say or “can’t we just keep the business separate from the sport?” while companies are licking their chops to attain such a space.

From an agency perspective, this is pure genius – particularly if you can align yourself with a team that happens to be…well, good. Every Cavs’ team photo will have the Goodyear logo, and every time the team steps onto the court, Goodyear’s logo will be displayed in front of 20,000+ fans in attendance and millions more watching from the comfort of home. And of course, Goodyear received some pretty good press simply by being associated with LeBron’s worldwide brand and acclaim.

It’s like the “sex sells” approach. A beautiful person is using this product? Cool, I want it. A super-talented NBA player has this logo on his jersey? It must be good.

But why the NBA…why now? From an NBA perspective, the answer is simple. Money. For everyone else, let’s look at all of the advertising in the world currently. If you had to choose one word to describe it what would it be? Cluttered may come to mind, and it gets more crowded by the day. Sure, there are effective ways to get around that – better targeting, more out of the box ideas – but one thing still remains: we’re running out of space to advertise.

We’ve seen ads in the sky, on the street, on and in buildings, shopping carts, and ads on people’s foreheads? They’re everywhere. As we talked about before, Facebook sees this clutter too, and they’re testing new ways for ads to be shown. Eventually, things like this were bound to happen.

And let’s be clear, this is in no way a novel idea. MLS teams have been doing this for years and their jerseys are much more obnoxious. Not to mention NASCAR is legendary for its ability to fit 5,000 sponsors on a driver’s jacket and car.

In this case, the uproar may simply be because the NBA is a prominent brand with star-powered names. But again, this was bound to happen. Especially since the most recent NBA Finals series averaged a cool 20.4 million viewers per game, and 16.0 metered-market rating. For those unfamiliar with television ratings, that means that for every 100 people in the U.S., 16 of them were watching the Finals at that time. Those numbers are the highest they’ve been since 1998, when Michael Jordan still played.

What does this all mean moving forward? We need to be more open to the ever-changing ad landscape. While getting your company’s logo on an NBA team jersey may not be plausible for most (unless you have a spare $20 million a year lying around), other spaces can pop up that can get you awareness. We need to pop this bubble that we’re in of “the only spaces I can get in are T.V., radio, billboard and internet.”

It’s all about the eyeballs. Brands are looking for every possible way to not only get the most reach for their dollars, but also get people’s attention. When someone sees an ad in a place outside of this “bubble,” they take notice. The fact that we’re even talking about these patches is a testament to that.

Some realistic spaces for smaller companies would be grocery store shopping carts. Everyone has to get groceries, right? Or, how about clever OOH advertising? I bet you can already picture a car or bus you’ve seen that has an advertising wrap on it. And what better way to show your community spirit than sponsoring a local little league team?

The key to any good advertising campaign is to stand out from the crowd and have your target audience remember what they saw or read. Stay up-to-date on the newest platforms, and more importantly, don’t be afraid to get creative.