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MLB Flies Under the Radar With Sponsor Patches

Since 2000, MLB clubs have experimented during international games with uniform sponsor patches. So why is it just now getting noticed?

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Cardinals uniform sponsor

Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, watchful eyes may have noticed a Ford sponsorship on the St. Louis Cardinals’ helmets during Major League Baseball’s Mexico Series. Speculation swirled it might be a test to allow uniform sponsorships on MLB uniforms. In reality, the league has permitted the practice in non-domestic games since 2000.

According to MLB International Senior Vice President Jim Small, patches have been displayed on uniforms during the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2019 Japan events. The 2019 Japan games also included MGM Resorts sleeve patches. The policy started because most international sports leagues allow uniform advertising, and branding on uniforms is more widely accepted.

“In Japan, the teams are all named for corporations, the names written across each player’s chest,” Small said. “So the idea of putting a small patch on our team’s uniforms was simply not a big deal.”

READ MORE: AT&T’s Logo Deal With WNBA Represents Deeper Strategy With NBA

For American baseball fans, sponsorship patches in unusual places stand out quickly, especially in the age of social media when images can spread quickly. So it makes sense that there was a stir. What’s more puzzling was why mainstream attention had been slow to catch on despite Small saying that the size and position of partner logos have remained consistent over nearly 20 years of play.

“Playing 162 game per year, fans get familiar with what they see every day,” Small said. “So when something changes, it is not uncommon or surprising to see a reaction, especially when it involves teams that haven’t played a lot internationally.”

Naturally, the larger question concerns when a similar strategy might make its way stateside. After all, the NBA has received plenty of attention since implementing jersey sponsorships in 2017, ultimately rounding out all 30 teams this season through Oklahoma City’s deal with Love’s. The average NBA sponsor patch deal pays $6.5 million annually, according to Yahoo’s Daniel Roberts.

Per Bill Sutton, a professor of sport and entertainment at the University of South Florida, it was only a matter of time before other American sports leagues took the same tack as Major League Soccer, whose teams have featured jersey sponsors since the league’s inception in a move in line with global soccer tradition.

“What the NBA has done is proved a market,” Sutton said. “They’re talking about a second patch, there’s definitely a market there. The other sports, you’re always looking for the next revenue stream, and this is one without a direct cost.”

In 2016, Sutton told The Atlantic he expected the NHL to be the next professional league to follow the NBA into uniform sponsorships and was surprised the hockey league had yet to venture into the practice. Yet they might not be that far off on the horizon, either: NHL Chief Business Officer Keith Wachtel recently told Front Office Sports that the league is considering implementing jersey sponsors.

For the MLB, Sutton said a sleeve sponsorship would likely make the most sense in the baseball realm. Yet he also points to a significant obstacle standing in the way of implementing the practice league-wide stateside. Since it would be baseball-related income, the revenue would need to be shared with players. While the NBA was able to figure out a satisfactory model, Sutton said there would be a greater discrepancy of what each MLB franchise could charge, which would likely add another curveball to the league’s implementation.

Another reason for the league’s hesitation boils down to the proliferation and near-oversaturation of advertising in some international leagues. For his part, Wachtel said it was important for the NHL to maintain a sleek visual appearance no matter what revenue sources came on board. In MLB’s case, Small said baseball wants to strike the right balance for fans and partners. But he’s also cognizant that the old ways are changing, and the classic approach to pristine uniforms in the United States might someday change with it.

READ MORE: Crawford Bock Brings Beer and Baseball Together for Astros

“There has traditionally been a different sporting culture internationally than in the U.S.,” Small said. “Over time, the difference between U.S.-based leagues and leagues outside the U.S., specifically in areas like sports wagering and on-uniform advertising, appear to be getting smaller.”

Just don’t expect MLB to make a change strictly because other leagues are, too. America’s Pastime will move at its own pace.

“We’re aware of what the other sports leagues do and don’t do on a wide variety of topics,” Small said. “Each sports league has a unique set of circumstances, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ll continue to monitor the topic and how it applies to baseball.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Sponsorship

Teams and Leagues Cozy Up to CBD Brands

The sports world is beginning to bring CBD companies into the fold, marking a significant milestone for the CBD industry.

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Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

As teams and leagues look for emerging partner opportunities, CBD brands are showcasing that they aren’t afraid to spend when it comes to sports partnerships. 

While not really a thought in the minds of professionals more than a year ago, CBD presents both a revenue opportunity and an interesting challenge for teams and leagues.

How did this happen?

Before the enactment of the new nationwide 2018 Farm Bill. there wasn’t much mainstream conversation around CBD. Since then, the category has exploded across both retail and sports.

When the bill passed, it legalized industrial hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and allowing tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries that allow farmers and ranchers to produce a high-value cash crop while retaining federal farm program benefits that were previously not allowed.

Teams and leagues are starting to find interest…

Just this past week, the Portland Pickles became the first baseball team with a CBD partner.

Before that, the Big3 signed a deal with cbdMD that made the brand the official CBD partner of the upstart basketball league. 

And, ahead of this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced its partnership with DEFY – a CBD-based sports performance drink.

The only problem with this partnership is that the drivers of the car can’t drink the drink due to the fact that CBD is on IndyCar’s banned substance list

Who’s sponsoring what?

Below you will find a list of some of the CBD and cannabis-related partnerships that have been signed recently.

Las Vegas Lights / NuWu Cannabis Marketplace

Big3 / cbdMD

Portland Pickles / Lazarus Naturals

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports / DEFY

Jonathan Byrd’s Racing / Liquid Gold Processing

RC Enerson / Craft 1861

It’s not just teams and leagues…

While the bigger deals might get more attention, CBD companies have also struck deals with athletes. 

For example, Bubba Watson has a deal with cbdMD, the same brand that is sponsoring the Big3.

Before Watson, Scott McCarron signed an endorsement deal with Functional Remedies, a hemp manufacturing company.

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Are NFL Jersey Ads Next?

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May 15, 2019; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki (44) runs a drill during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

Jersey ads aren’t an unfamiliar sight at NFL practices. Brands like Lecom and Hyundai are visible on the practice jerseys of the Browns and Cardinals respectively.

The one place jersey ads haven’t shown up is in regular season games. 

Could that be changing anytime soon?

Speaking with SI, an NFL spokesman said, “Never say never, but there are no current plans to pursue or explore.”

With what SI estimates to be $224 million in revenue being left on the table by not having patches on the jerseys, why would the league not consider it? 

According to those inside the industry, the NFL is concerned about conflicts of interest between teams who may have patches of competitors of current partners for opposing teams.   

The NBA has found success…

The NBA launched its jersey patch program in 2017 and as of March of 2019, every team in the league found themselves with a patch on their jersey. 

According to Terry Lefton and John Lombardo of SBJ, the patch program has generated more than $150 million for the league.

Another important stat is that of the 30 team patch sponsors, 20 are doing business with NBA teams for the first time.

At this point, not having ads is more unusual…

Even MLB, considered the most traditional of sports leagues in the U.S., has experimented with sponsor patches since 2000. Of the major sports leagues in the U.S., here’s a look at which ones have ads on their game jerseys and which ones don’t. 

NBA: Yes

WNBA: Yes

MLS: Yes

NHL: No 

NFL: No

MLB: Yes (for special occasion games only – Mexico Series etc)

Internationally, teams are cashing in…

While soccer is somewhat different in that the advertising is not just a patch, but the primary part of a team’s uniform, the revenue potential can’t be argued. Here’s a look at what just five brands are paying international clubs, according to The 18.

Emirates / Real Madrid: $80 million per year 

Chevy / Man U: $68 million per year

Rakuten / Barcelona: $60 million per year

Emirates / Arsenal: $56 million per year

Yokohama / Chelsea: $51 million per year

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CohnReznick Sponsors a Dive Inside the Business of Baseball

Accounting firm CohnReznick shows the business of baseball in two video series with MLB, “Business of Baseball” and “Front Office Focus.”

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CohnReznick MLB Videos
Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

Accounting firm CohnReznick is taking an authentic approach to its MLB sponsorship. Through a video series called Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus, CohnReznick lends its name to an inside look at professional baseball. The series is produced by MLB Network, where it airs, along with, MLB.com and CohnReznick’s website.

MLB confirmed CohnReznick as a sponsor of the video series to FOS. The two parties collaborate on ideas, but MLB declined to speak on the sponsorship further.

“Our team really wanted something that was authentic, not just a way to slap our name onto something, but to own something,” says Frank Longobardi, CEO, CohnReznick. “We are able to align some of our core values with what’s being talked about in Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus. That makes us feel good, as we felt we could drive content and value with our strengths.”

READ MORE: MLB Flies Under the Radar With Sponsor Patches

While service-oriented companies have sponsored sports for decades, it’s becoming more common for non-consumer brands to find ways to cut through the clutter,” says Joe Favorito, a sports marketing and communications consultant.

“These companies are tying to something that resonates,” Favorito says. “Consumers have millions of choices. If it comes down to personal choice, they remember the company for who their spokesperson is or the story being told.”

The Business of Baseball series launched during December’s Baseball Winter Meetings, where CohnReznick was the presenting sponsor of the meetings for MLB Network. Over the course of the video sponsorship, there will be approximately six Business of Baseball videos and up to 35 Front Office Focus clips through the season.

“They’re topics, like hospitality and security, that are the same types of things we deal with our clients,” Longobardi says. “We wanted to show similarities of how Major League teams go through some of the same things our clients go through.”

Each of the videos feature commentators and baseball executives. Front Office Focus highlights discussions with executives from the league’s 30 teams about issues ranging from team strategies to club operations, while Business of Baseball looks into how franchises transform the game through analytics and management, but also how they redefine the fan experience.

A recent episode, “The Business of Food,” featured a look at how food experiences now play into a fan’s trip to a ballpark., like a sit-down interview with Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer by CohnReznick Managing Partner Cindy McLoughlin talking about how the game day experience has evolved to include a culinary aspect. The restaurant industry is evolving inside and outside the ballpark.

“When you look at stadiums and games, it’s not just about baseball anymore,” McLoughlin says. “Fans expect an overall experience. People get to stadiums to stand in line, they need to get their Shack Burger.

“That led us to Danny Meyer to really peel back why it’s a benefit to him and how those synergies line up.”

The video topics originated in a brainstorming session featuring CohnReznick’s team and  MLB. The topics center around issues with innovation and analytics to elevate customer experience and retain loyalty. From these conversations, MLB could consider matching a team with a relevant topic.

“It puts us front and center with a really good brand,” Longobardi says of the partnership. “In any business, you want to align yourself with good organizations, and this relationship does that well and connects the right type of people we’re trying to attract, the C-Suite individuals to middle market to small public companies.”

READ MORE: The MLBPA Has Embraced Athlete-Driven Marketing

The sponsorship has allowed CohnReznick to provide clients, potential clients and employees with strong relationship building opportunities at games and events.

“It really has allowed us to spend some time with key clients and be able to spend quality time with our employees and enjoy ourselves,” Longobardi says. “We can more closely align MLB brand with our clients and our staff, and that makes it a unique experience.”

By tying in with behind the scenes content, CohnReznick hopes to resonate with clients beyond just a name on the screen.

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