If the NFL could do it all over again, the NFL would do at least two things differently from the get-go. One, the league would set itself up as a truly single enterprise and not various different businesses, for legal and labor reasons. Two, the league would put advertisement all over its uniforms and helmets, for revenue reasons.
Nearly 100 years later, tens of millions of dollars if not more are lost every year due to the failure of the league to incorporate advertisements from the launch of the league and its reluctance to start now. Surely, the league constantly wrestles with whether to devote a pledge-pin-sized portion of its uniform (or more) to companies looking to expand brand awareness in exchange for large payments of cash.
The process began several years ago, when the league allowed teams to put patches on their practice jerseys. And while the presence of ads on game uniforms currently goes no farther than the Nike swoosh on the jerseys and pants and the logos appearing on shoes, the decision of the Toronto Raptors to become the ninth NBA team to put an ad on their game jerseys surely will spark the latest flurry of emails in and around 345 Park Avenue as to whether the league should find a way to follow suit.
Though many fans would strenuously object to the proliferation of uniforms ads, what would happen if the league found a way to add advertisements in a subtle, unobtrusive way? Racing fans not only tolerate but welcome ads all over vehicles and racing suits. Soccer fans shrug at the entire front of a kit being consumed by a corporate message.
So while the NFL missed the boat back in the 1920s, it feels inevitable that ads eventually will roar onto NFL jerseys. Fans will huff and puff (as the poll we posted last year confirms), but of all the issues that could blow the NFL’s house down, ads on uniforms are low on the list. Especially as more and more other sports embrace opportunities to make even more money for nothing.