The NFL’s Best Real Estate Isn’t for Sale. Yet. (Ep. 10)

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(photo: Phil Noble/Reuters) The AON logo on Manchester United jerseys reportedly brings in more than $30 million a year.

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.

Collin Campbell Denver Broncos COO

Joe Ellis isn’t a fan of jersey sponsorship. But, he says: “I will tell you that if you did do it, people would get over it very quickly.”

So why hasn’t this happened – yet, at least?

That’s the question we ask in the latest episode of Freakonomics Radio (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.


every team's logo is a product to be sold (shirts, jerseys, hats, football gear, etc). allowing other corporate logos/messaging would distract from the sales of NFL gear.


Allowing NFL teams to put brabd names on their jerseys I think would be very smart, a great deal of money could be made that way. Now most of the teams, if not all, have a lot of money, so they dont necessarily need any more, but why not donate most of the money made from advertising on their jersys.

The NFL has a total of 32 teams, lets say they each get a sponsor and the average income per team is 20 million dollars per year. These teams could donate part of that money to something that would in change, really need the money.


For years I've been wondering why the airlines don't sell advertising on the overhead bins.

ct2k 12830

One question. If they put advertisement on the uniforms will they stop showing commercials - because I just could not take both...that would simply be too much advertising. As the article indicates, it works in soccer because there are no breaks in the action for TV commercials - therefore, the league has to do something to cover the salaries and other expenses.


Of course, sure. And next the Boston Pops with Nike logos on their tuxes.


If this ever happens, and I'm sure it will, it will immediately trigger my exodus from the NFL, my beloved Vikings, and professional sports leagues, in general. Matias is right on the button. I'm done with the further encroachment of corporatism. It's bad enough as it is, already.

Seth A.

Part of what the NFL sells is an image of continuity with the past. I believe this strengthens team brand identity and fan loyalty. I can't imagine anchor NFL teams such as the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, and Packers selling out the look of their jerseys for extra revenue. They stand to loose so much of that intangible quality that makes the NFL capture the attention and loyalty of Americans. If the NFL wanted to sell out, they would've allowed a small market team move to LA by now. But they value a loyal fan base and even geographic distribution.


The NFL should accept team jerseys to have ads on them, they would bring a great deal of money to all the teams and many things could be done. ALthoug i do think that part of that money gained from the sponsor should be given to the players.


Take a look at the Australian Football league. Their club jumper sponsorships are worth millions and the US Market is SOOOOOOOOO much bigger. The average AFL sponsor logo on a jumper is quite small, and doesnt dominate the jumper at all. This might be a better way to go.


Being raised in Europe, I have to say it's a pleasure to see American baseball, basketball, football, and hockey uniforms. Just say No, and Stay clean. There are enough commercial messages out there as it is.


Remember when it was a game?


Why not? The fans are treated like total idiots and fools anyway. They deserve it.

Elliot Sturman

I think they should sell ad space on the field itself. This is one of the least utilized advertising spaces. We are always looking down as we walk and there are hardly any ads on the sidewalks or floors. There are lots of shots during a football game from above where you see the field -- why reserve this space only for the team logos. Why not let me buy it for my company: -- check out our web site and give me a call!

the eyeroller

a) it doesn't have to.

b) i would not buy a jersey with an ad on it. why should i? i am not paid to endorse a product. screw them.


It looks tacky, and therefore would damage the NFL brand name.


The 'sport' is so commercialized as it is. Who needs more advertising. What I want to know is if the teams make so much money from all the advertising, then why are ticket prices still so high?


I suspect the reason the NFL doesn't have ads on jerseys is because there's more money to be made from TV commercials. By putting ads on jerseys they'd risk income from the TV ads: would Coke pay for commercials if the teams were sponsored by Pepsi.

Most European sports have 30-45 min of game time between ads while in the US there are 1-2 min.


It's only a matter of time.

And people will get over it quickly. I watch loads of soccer from around the world, just as much as I watch football here, and I can't remember sponsorship on jerseys ever being an issue for me. It it was I got over it fast, and now it's just part of the game.


Once the NFL or NBA team uniform becomes a corporate logo and advertising vector it will become MUCH more difficult to extort new stadia from local taxpayers, and their elected officials. Once the team becomes Bank of America Panthers in the mind and eyes of the fans then public financial support will wither. It is much easier to extort money from taxpayers than from large companies. That is why it has not happened and may not for a while. If public largesse diminishes in the near future then advertising will develop.


...Besides, the teams are supposed to be brands themselves. It seems most international leagues & clubs have forgotten this in their thirst for more cash. You are supposed to see the Cowboys' Star on the helmet, the interlocking NY on the Mets & Yankees caps, & that awesome Golden Gate Bridge logo on the new Warriors jerseys. Why replace team artwork with ugly, drab corporate sponsors? I care more about my Buccaneers' Jolly Roger than some stupid Viagra logo, & I think most fans feel the same.