The NFL’s Best Real Estate Isn’t For Sale. Yet.: The NFL is very good at making money. So why on earth doesn’t it sell ad space on the one piece of real estate that football fans can’t help but see: the players themselves?
This weekend, the NFL makes its annual pilgrimage to London for a one-off game at Wembley Stadium. This year, the Denver Broncos play the San Francisco 49ers. The game will be played just like it’s played in the States, but it’ll look a bit different.
For a typical NFL game, the only advertising visible at field level comes from sponsors who, according to the NFL, are related to the playing of the game itself: the Gatorade cooler, the Motorola headsets, Wilson footballs, Riddell helmets and a small Reebok logo on the uniforms. But in London, the league opens up the playbook and sells field advertising for products that have nothing to with the game of football. (Or at least playing the game – beer, for instance.)
“We did it for a year and tested it, and for the four years that we’ve played there now, this will be the fourth year, we’ve allowed that to continue, and we’re very comfortable with it now, for the U.K.,” Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “They’re used to sporting events where advertisers are on the field, on the sideline.”
But it’s not signboards, of course. Soccer players in England and around the world wear jerseys with corporate logos plastered across their chests. If you landed in Europe for the first time and didn’t know any better, you might think that Carlsberg beer fields its own soccer team, or Emirates airline, or the online-gambling firm Bwin.
It’s the corporate logos that have pride of place on soccer jerseys; the club’s name, meanwhile, is usually relegated to a small patch.
This brings in big money for the clubs. A new Sport+Markt report shows that, despite the recession, the English Premier League (which itself has a sponsor, Barclays) has just set a record by bringing in $178 million this year for its 20 clubs, overtaking Germany’s Bundesliga. According to Sport+Markt, the 10 European soccer clubs this year average more than $23 million each for jersey sponsorship. (The revered F.C. Barcelona, meanwhile, sports a UNICEF logo on its jerseys, but it actually makes a donation to the group rather than taking any payment.)
Which got us to wondering: why doesn’t the NFL follow suit and sell ad space on the one piece of real estate that football fans can’t help but see – the players themselves?
One explanation for jersey sponsorship in soccer is that there are no TV breaks during a soccer game during which ads can be sold. An NFL game, meanwhile, has lots of ad inventory during the game.
On the other hand, an NFL jersey would seem to be a massive ad opportunity, and the NFL isn’t exactly shy about profit-maximizing: it is, by most measures, the most successful sports league in history.
So why hasn’t this happened – yet, at least?
That’s the question we ask in the latest episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast (subscribe at iTunes, get it via RSS, read the transcript, or listen via the player above). The answer is trickier than you might think. And things may be changing fast: this season, for the first time, the NFL allowed teams to sell ad space on its practice jerseys.
You’ll hear from a large cast of characters, including: Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer; Keith Gordon, the president of NFL Players Inc.; Joe Ellis, chief operating officer of the Denver Broncos; Jerry Jones, Jr., chief sales and marketing officer of the Dallas Cowboys; multi-sport mogul Jerry Colangelo; Michael Neuman, president of Amplify Sports and Entertainment (which brokers corporate sponsorships of sporting events); and from some actual football fans as well.
You’ll also hear from Tevye – because, when it comes to jersey sponsorships, he may represent the biggest obstacle between the NFL’s present and its future.