On April 15, 2016, the NBA announced that it would
allow teams to start selling jersey sponsorships as part of a three-year “pilot
program.” A month later, on May 15,
2016, the NBA announced that the first team and sponsor combo would be the
Philadelphia 76ers and StubHub. For the
’16-’17 season, Philadelphia will debut a small StubHub
patch on the breast of their jersey.
Just to provide some context, no
major sports in the United States—barring soccer, which some don’t count—have
sponsorship deals like the one the NBA is testing for the next three
years. The 76ers and StubHub deal is the
first of its kind in mainstream American sports.
From a business standpoint, the
partnership makes sense. In Europe and
South America, where soccer is king, jersey sponsorships are the
norm—Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world, is locked into a
$559 million deal with Chevrolet. It
should be noted that European jersey sponsorships are far more intrusive than
the StubHub patch on the 76ers’ jersey.
So, is the 76ers’ decision to be a
pioneer in American sports a bad one?
No, not at all. The 76ers are
somewhat of a joke of a franchise—their recent NBA records have been terrible,
they’ve received bad press over and over as of late, and their fans are
starting to turn on them. With a golden
opportunity to take the franchise a step in the right direction, Philadelphia
dropped the ball with their announcement of their new jerseys and their StubHub
At midnight on Monday, May 16,
2016, the Philadelphia
76ers’ official Twitter account tweeted a GIF of Big Betsy, the team mascot
version of Betsy Ross, sewing something onto a Moses Malone (franchise legend)
jersey. Fans on Twitter were freaked
out—one fan, @yaboizachz, said “@Sixers this is terrifying,” encapsulating
nearly the entirety of the fan base’s feedback.
The 76ers later released a follow-up
video featuring team mascots/icons Big Betsy, a dancing Benjamin Franklin,
and Franklin the Dog. The second, longer
video wasn’t received well either.
Sixers fans on social media weren’t happy. Some ridiculed the ad for just being, well,
creepy and subpar; others felt like it was a slap in the face, asserting that
the management was more concerned with the business aspect of the franchise, hadn’t
done anything in years to help the actual team compete; many noted the fact
that jersey ads aren’t popular in the U.S., and were critical of the
franchise’s decision to make a big spectacle of it.
Rather than announce their
partnership with StubHub via two cheesy, creepy videos, Philadelphia should
have done something subtler. They should
have issued a formal press release, had a spokesperson provide comment if
necessary, and done a photo-shoot with some of their best players (do they have
any?) wearing the new jersey. Instead,
their videos ensured that their sponsorship by StubHub got off to an awful
start; they also reaffirmed their status as a franchise virtually nobody takes
A subtler, softer approach would
have mitigated damage, and would have been a much better start to a three year
minimum multi-million dollar deal.
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Contributor: Jack Haandraadts, Account Coordinator at Marketing Maven