Jarren Ginsburg | Rams jerseys point toward future NFL uniform ads

Jarren Ginsburg, associate and litigation lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP's sports and entertainment group, explores how the Los Angeles Rams' new uniforms are poised to help open an important new area of sports sponsorship

Jarren Ginsburg

On May 13, the Los Angeles Rams unveiled their new uniforms for the 2020 National Football League 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: an emerging new era in sponsorship.

At the 26-second mark, the video highlights the new home jersey—in an off-white hue called “Bone”— and, more importantly, zooms in on 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 introducing on-jersey advertisement to NFL gamedays.

NFL teams are no strangers to partnering with sponsors for on-jersey advertisements. Since 2009, practice jersey sponsorships in the league have exploded, with nearly every team contracting with companies to sponsor a patch to be worn only during practices.

For a long time, use of these patches on gameday, though prevalent and lucrative in international soccer leagues, had been taboo among the “Big Four” North American sports leagues. But in 2017, the National Basketball Association became the first of these leagues to adopt on-jersey sponsorships, with deals reportedly ranging from $5m to $20m annually per team.

The NBA’s major step, on the back of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s more prominent on-jersey sponsorships before it, helped acclimate sports fans to seeing company logos on team uniforms. With NFL games serving as the most-watched programming in all of American television, its clubs could stand to garner significant relative sponsorship rates. While the NFL has not publicly stated that in-game and on-jersey advertisements will be permitted in the near future, the Rams’ jersey patch signals that the league, its clubs, and of course jersey sponsor Nike, are 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 precisely which companies can sponsor on-jersey patches, and how revenue will be shared.

As a result, clubs will likely need to seek league 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 that new revenue will be divided. The accompanying additional revenues would then need to be addressed, as applicable, under the newly-signed 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The LA Rams unveiled their new uniforms for the 2020 NFL season in May. (Credit: Los Angeles Rams)

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 object to be moved as needed without affecting the overall aesthetics of the uniform.

For instance, the Rams and the league may find that the patch is more visible to sideline cameras when placed on the shoulders. In addition, the use of a contrasting patch will provide a blank slate for sponsors to use their logos without having to match the aesthetics and color scheme of the team’s uniforms. The Rams’ 2020 season, including preseason, will provide league and club officials at least 20 test runs for an eventual new normal for in-game sponsorship.

The Covid-19 global health pandemic has forced businesses of all types to adopt creative strategies for maximizing revenue in a constantly-shifting marketplace. The NFL is no different, and the league has already showed ingenuity and nimbleness in televising its Draft virtually. With attendance figures potentially down, perhaps to zero, for at least 2020, sponsorship patches on jerseys could open a new revenue stream for clubs to offset any revenue declines in other areas.

On-jersey sponsorship patches, when – and not if – they happen, will undoubtedly prove to be a fruitful proposition for the NFL and its clubs. The additional revenues and increased exposure for sponsors are simply be too valuable for the league and its member clubs to pass up for long. The Rams will provide an excellent dry run for the NFL and its clubs thanks to several of factors.

Not only do the Rams play in one of the largest television markets in the United States, the club is also scheduled to play in five nationally-televised prime time games in 2020, tied for the most of any team. Millions of fans across the country will quickly grow accustomed to seeing this on-jersey patch on their television sets, such that seeing patches on other teams’ jerseys will not be jarring in coming years.

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.”

Jarren Ginsburg is an associate and litigation lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP’s sports and entertainment group. He is a member of the firm’s Business Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice.