UFL Fans, Be Prepared to See Advertisements -- On the Players

Categories: Sports
American fans haven't always been thrilled to see advertisements on player uniforms
The announcement that the nascent, San Francisco-based United Football League has inked a deal with StubHub as its first sponsor was interesting on two levels. First, StubHub is a Web site that allows fans -- or veiled scalpers -- to resell tickets. If the league feels that a demand exists for UFL tickets that will compel fans to take to the Web and pay above face value ... well, good for them.

More interesting, though, was a little bit of language that doesn't seem to have made its way into mainstream news reports: StubHub has been promised by the league to receive "on-field and on-helmet exposure during all of our national telecasts" (our emphasis). Yes, this means that UFL players will have advertisements on their bodies.

This is an intriguing decision and our calls to the UFL to query how cautiously they approached this move have not yet been returned. Turning players' uniforms into corporate billboards (for companies other than athletic apparel manufacturers) is a move that has, to date, been largely avoided by major professional leagues playing mainstream American sports. To the American eye, ads on the uniforms of traditional big-time teams have always appeared garish and small-timey (perhaps because they hark to the above Chico's Bail Bonds example). So this is definitely a bold move by the UFL -- but is it a smart one?

Even in America, the idea of selling ad space on athletes' bodies is far from unprecedented. Race car drivers are more decorated than Cold War generals and ostentatiously switch their caps three or four times during an interview. The WNBA recently caved to the pressure of jersey sponsors, Major League baseball teams on tour in Japan have gone native regarding on-uniform ad-placement, and NFL football teams have already sewn ad patches onto their practice jerseys (which the defunct Arena League actually did during games).

Of course, overseas, the most prestigious soccer teams in Europe and Latin America are nothing more than sprinting, sweaty billboards for corporations such as Vodafone, Pirelli, or large companies hawking baked goods, cement, or even health care. (Major League Soccer carries on this "tradition"). Isn't it a bit naive of American fans to think that our drug-, money-, and sponsorship-soaked professional leagues are somehow purer than those elsewhere because we sell ads on every inch of the realm but the players' clothing?

On the other hand -- and this does carry some weight -- even the XFL did not sell adspace on uniforms. That would have been tacky.

So, it remains to be seen if the UFL's decision is historic or just a historical afterthought.Or, to put it in fan-friendly language: Are you ready for some football (ads)?

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