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MLB advertising patches on uniforms are ‘inevitable’, league executive says

Advertising patches, like the ones worn by Aaron Judge and the Yankees during their London games against the Red Sox earlier this season, will be a feature of MLB uniforms a few years down the line. (Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

For something that takes up only 6.25 square inches of uniform space, the advertising patches now worn by all 30 NBA teams have had a sizable impact on their bottom lines. Depending on the team, the 2.5-inch-by-2.5-inch patches bring in between $5 million and $20 million annually, and one estimate has that yearly haul rising 20 to 30 percent when the next round of deals are banged out starting in a few years.

Major League Baseball officials appear to have noticed this windfall because, according to a story by Sports Business Journal’s Terry Lefton, similar advertising likely will be a uniform feature in the near future.

“We’re examining the patch, but clearly we have things to work through first,” Noah Garden, MLB executive vice president of business and sales, told Lefton. “I’d say it’s inevitable down the road, but certainly not immediate. This is something that requires a fairly long runway. There are lots of things to take into consideration, but I think we will get there.”

There are numerous reasons for that lag time, and they’re similar to what the NBA dealt with ahead of the 2017-18 season, when the patches were first unveiled. First and foremost (for the MLB team owners, at least) is determining how much that little piece of fabric will be worth for a league that plays nearly twice as many games per season as its basketball compatriot and features a lot more standing around, thus increasing the chances that the patches will be more easily caught by television cameras.

Kyle Folts, vice president of insights for Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment (which has been assessing potential patch value for several MLB teams), told Lefton that the average baseball team could get $6 million to $8 million per year, with high-profile teams like the Yankees getting more. The Golden State Warriors are at the top of the NBA’s list, getting $20 million annually from Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten.

MLB players, meanwhile, will want to know how much of that new revenue will filter down to them and must approve the patches in a new collective bargaining agreement that won’t take effect until the current one expires after the 2021 season.

There’s also the matter of where the patches will be located on the uniform (chest would be more visible than arm, according to VWS&E), what kinds of products will be allowed as advertisements (the NBA doesn’t allow companies promoting liquor, gambling, tobacco, media concerns, political ads and competitors of Nike, which supplies the NBA’s uniforms and will outfit MLB teams starting next year) and whether all teams will take part (one marketer for an MLB licensee told Lefton that it would be surprising if the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs join in).

The time between now and the next CBA gives everyone a chance to get on the same page, much to the dismay of uniform purists such as UniWatch’s Paul Lukas, who notes that MLB uniforms have gotten pretty noisy over the past few years, what with marks from the various uniform suppliers (the Nike swoosh will be on the players’ chests starting next year, for instance), the special holiday uniforms teams are allowed to wear and the fact that teams playing games in foreign countries must wear ads on their uniforms (as the Yankees and Red Sox did earlier this season for their London games).

“Simply put: We’ve lost. This is the world we live in now. We can still critique it or call b---s--- on it, but we can no longer forestall it,” Lukas wrote Tuesday.

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