On May 13, the Los Angeles Rams unveiled their new uniforms for the 2020 NFL season. The club’s official Twitter account tweeted a 41-second video accompanied by the caption “A new era in Los Angeles.” While NFL fans and pundits discussed the colors of the jerseys and the design of the helmet, advertisers with a keen eye might have focused on something else: a new era in sponsorship.
At the 26 second mark of the video, the camera zooms in on the home jersey—in an off-white called “Bone”—and, more importantly a small bright white rectangular patch with yellow stitching bearing the words “Los Angeles Rams.” The color contrast is stark, making the patch pop in the eyes of a spectator. Far from a “Bone”-headed fashion faux pas, this mismatched patch could be a test case for bringing on-jersey advertisement to NFL game days.
NFL teams are no strangers to partnering with sponsors for on-jersey advertisements. Since 2008, practice jersey sponsorships have exploded, with nearly every team contracting with companies to sponsor a patch to be worn only during practices. For a long time, however, in-game use—though prevalent and lucrative in international soccer leagues—had been taboo among the “Big Four” North American sports leagues. But in 2017, the NBA became the first of these “Big Four” leagues to adopt on-jersey sponsorships—with deals reportedly ranging from $5 to $20 million annually. The NBA’s major step—on the back of the WNBA’s more prominent on-jersey sponsorships before it—helped to acclimate sports fans to seeing company placements on team uniforms. With NFL games serving as the most watched television programs on a weekly basis, NFL clubs could garner significant relative sponsorship rates. While the NFL has not publically stated that in-game and on-jersey advertisements will be permitted in the near future, the Rams’ jersey patch signals that the NFL—along with jersey sponsor Nike—is ready to test those waters.
If this theory is correct, the NFL has likely already begun the process of developing and honing its rules for who can sponsor on-jersey patches, and how revenue will be shared. The NFL famously has league-wide sponsors for many product categories, down to an Official Salty Snacks Partner. As a result, clubs will likely need to seek approval when finding sponsors for their on-jersey patches—or the NFL would provide an approved list of sponsors with whom clubs can negotiate. Moreover, the League has likely hammered out the details for how revenue will be shared among the clubs, whether on a “local,” or team-specific amount, or as a “national” revenue item split amongst the league’s 32 member clubs, with such additional revenues to be addressed, as applicable, under the newly-signed 2020 CBA.
But before the teams get to dollars and cents, the NFL could use the Rams’ 2020 season to test practical considerations for on-jersey patches. The use of an off-center and off-color patch—rather than an embroidered central logo—allows for the patch to be moved as needed without affecting the aesthetic of the uniform. For instance, the Rams and the NFL may find that the patch is more visible to sideline cameras when placed on the shoulders. The Rams’ 2020 season, including preseason, could offer at least 20 test runs for an eventual new normal for in-game sponsorship.
On-jersey sponsorship patches would undoubtedly prove to be a lucrative proposition for the NFL and its clubs. The additional revenues, and the additional exposure for sponsors, would simply be too lucrative to pass up for long. With the Rams playing in one of the largest markets in the United States, in a brand new stadium, and in the most prime time games on the 2020 NFL Schedule, millions of fans will quickly grow accustomed to seeing this on-jersey patch on their television sets. This is particularly true as live broadcast sporting events become even more in-demand in the times of social distancing and COVID-19. The rest of the NFL cannot be far behind in joining the Rams in this “new era.”