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Friday, March 19th, 2010 at 4:47 pm  |  12 responses

Revisiting Jersey Sponsorships in the WNBA

A year later, skeptics may be forced to retract.

by Ben York / @bjyork

In June of 2009, a landmark partnership was made between the Phoenix Mercury and LifeLock leading to the first-ever branded jersey in WNBA and NBA history – and I’ve been a staunch supporter of the deal from the beginning.

The move was met with harsh criticism from the “purists” of both the NBA and WNBA. Detractors said this would lead to low jersey sales, to a saturated corporate marketing campaign, Phoenix Mercury practice jerseyand ultimately to the disintegration of a team’s identity.

With the incredible success the Phoenix Mercury had in 2009, I feel comfortable saying many of said skeptics are singing a different tune today.

When the joint venture was announced, your opinion of the partnership was undeniably predicated on the way you view the WNBA in general. If you want the league to succeed and thrive then you probably were excited about the unprecedented move. If you aren’t a supporter of the WNBA, then you most likely saw the partnership as desperate and reaching. It should be noted that although there were some initial reservations from a select group of fans, the deal was met with overwhelming support from the WNBA community and its players. Almost instantly, WNBA fans felt a sense of security and support for their cherished league that they’ve been missing for so long. After all, the sponsorship validated what they have been saying for over a decade – the WNBA product is both valuable and sustainable.

Now, if your glass is half empty, you might have felt a bit perturbed that it took a deal of this magnitude to demonstrate such notable support. If it’s half full, surely you were excited about the progress the league has made in 13 short years. Still, the vast majority of the controversy did not come from fans or players in the WNBA.

Due to the initial success of the Mercury/LifeLock deal, more partnerships followed such as the Los Angeles Sparks and Farmers Insurance. In fact, with the Mercury’s sensational 2009 season, the initial projections and return on investment for LifeLock were blown out of the water and far exceeded sponsorship costs. The LifeLock name even graced the cover of the Wheaties box with the Mercury’s championship victory over the Indiana Fever; something that certainly couldn’t have been predicted when the partnership talks began.

Almost a year has passed since that initial announcement and my question to you is this — whether you agree or disagree with jersey sponsorships, do you still feel the same way you did when the partnership was announced? Maybe you disagreed with the move at first, but how do you feel now?

Surely, more WNBA teams will (and should) acquire exclusive sponsors. It’s not a question of if, but when?

On March 16, the Phoenix Mercury and LifeLock finalized another agreement to expand their ground-breaking partnership with the exclusive placement of the LifeLock logo on their practice jerseys for the 2010 season. “It’s a privilege to work with LifeLock and continue to develop this pioneering venture for both organizations,” said Mercury President and COO, Jay Parry. “The partnership has been a huge success in its first season and has broadened both organizations’ reach in the community, to WNBA fans and the basketball community as a whole.”

With the expansion now to practice jerseys, there is little doubt that other WNBA teams will come up with creative ways to feature their sponsors or potential sponsors. This fresh approach to the WNBA (a.k.a. creativity) is what smart, savvy organizations need to possess if they want to be successful in such a harsh economic climate. We’ve seen what has happened to other WNBA teams and preventing the dissolution of a franchise takes a proactive approach to running the business. The Phoenix Mercury certainly has a phenomenal group of leaders who are doing everything in their power to showcase their beloved team. What other WNBA organizations will step up to the plate?

Perhaps more important than anything for the growth and expansion of the game, the LifeLock announcement showed the world the WNBA isn’t going anywhere. Why would a company spend millions of dollars in a stale product? Why would they invest in something that wasn’t sustainable or didn’t have the legitimate potential to reap the rewards? The example the Mercury/LifeLock deal set for fellow WNBA franchises is not only exciting, but vital toward the future of the league as a whole.

The bulk of the criticism dealt with the notion that the move would lead to a loss of identity for the sponsored team. At the time, I felt this criticism would blow over and it appears that it indeed has. If so, then what (if anything) isn’t beneficial of having a jersey sponsor? Obviously, WNBA teams probably wouldn’t want a company like Enron gracing their jerseys, but that’s why there are people smarter than myself developing these partnerships.

Looking back, it’s hard even for the naysayers to deny the positive far outweighs the negative with jersey sponsors thus far, especially in the WNBA.

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  • LA Huey

    I know we’re not used to it (sponsor logos on in-game jerseys) in American sports but the closer it gets the league to supporting itself, the better. Not a big deal. I’m sure Cheryl Miller have done as much to play pro ball on her own soil.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ben York

    @LA Huey – Great point.

  • David

    I hate sponsor patches on jerseys. I don’t think I’d ever buy a soccer club jersey because of the sponsor logos.

  • GK

    I think that sponsorship kind of ruin the aesthetic of a jersey, same reason why I dislike them on soccer kits. Sponsors aren’t forever, so every few years your teams uni takes on a different look which means having to buy new gear, or having an uglier jersey.

    But you kind of skipped the biggest point Ben. The league and team needed that additional revenue badly, and if the NBA doesn’t get it’s crap inorder I this next CBA then it might have to do the same. But let’s not kid ourselves, the WNBA needed that influx of cash as it was not getting it from conventional sources.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/san-dova-speak-easy/ San Dova

    I detest sponsor logos as well, but a great thing about the WNBA is that they have made attractive team logo patches, so that’s unique. I love sportswear, particularly the construction of game uniforms, and the WNBA’s already sort of avant-garde, so it doesn’t really disrupt the culture of the league, really.

    Good stuff, Ben.

  • serevei

    to be honest i actually really like having sponsors logos on jerseys like we do here in aus… makes jerseys more busy and to me it just makes the less plain and better

  • Amy

    If this was such a great deal, where did the money that Phoenix and LA received go? In the pockets of the owners? Didn’t go to the players, salary cap went down. If it went to the league it’s obviously closer to folding than even I think, because they seem to be focusing on spending less money more than figuring out how to improve the league with the influx of some sponsorship dollars.

    So I guess I went from not having an opinion on it to having a negative reaction because nobody’s shown me how having that money has benefited the WNBA or the teams.

  • Dillan

    Leagues around the world that have jersey sponsorships;

    1. English Premier League
    2. Super 14s Rugby
    3. Every Euro Basketball league.

    If done for the NBA, you probably end up covered in logos and not knowing which one is the team logo.

  • Lebran

    Speaking as an Englishman, I can assure you ALL that no ‘soccer’ shirt bought in England is bought as a fashion item. American Jerseys sell so well (or used to, thanks to Jay-Z) because of the lack of sponsors plastered all over them.

    The only people that buy the shirts over here are the real fans who usually wear them exclusively to games, or kids who buy them to play football in.

    Everyone who keeps jabbering on about how all the other leagues around the world have acres of advertising all over them, your absoloutely correct. The problem is, no one buys them…

  • Lebran

    Refering to my point ^, I don’t see a problem with the WNBA sponsoring there jerseys. I doubt they sell many jerseys as it is, and it takes more than 15 ticket sales per game to run a team.

    Keep it away from the NBA though….

  • Go Mystics

    Lifelock has agreed to pay $11 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $1 million to a group of 35 state attorneys general to settle charges that the company used false claims to promote its identify theft protection services…

    http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/03/lifelock.shtm

    How is this good for the WNBA? It’s fans?

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