December 1, 2005

More ads on U S sports uniforms on the way

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Professional U.S. sports teams
ultimately will have to bow to increased sponsorship on their
uniforms and playing surfaces, following the lead of European
soccer, a leading sports executive said on Thursday.

"I think it's probably inevitable," said Robert Kain, vice
chairman of sports agency IMG, which represents superstar
athletes like football's Peyton Manning and baseball's Derek

Teams and fans in the United States generally have opposed
such branding, feeling it encroaches on a perceived purity and
tradition of the sports. Some jerseys and equipment do have
small ads on them.

In Europe, however, soccer jerseys are emblazoned with the
logos of telephone companies and other major sponsors.

As higher player salaries force increased ticket prices,
ultimately sports like Major League Baseball and the National
Basketball Association could be forced to tap additional
revenue sources.

"The individual teams might put pressure on the leagues
because of the economic pressures," Kain said at the Reuters
Media and Advertising Summit in New York.

"It might be smaller, it might be more subtle than the
European version but I think it's here, whether it's on the ice
(in professional hockey) or on the sleeve," he said. "It'll
just keep growing a little bit more.

"I would be surprised if it did not."

Kain said that decades ago many probably doubted that golf,
a generally conservative sport, would have been laced with the
ads that now regularly appear on shirts and hats that
professional players wear when they play.

Last year, however, Major League Baseball retreated from a
plan to advertise a Spider-Man film sequel on its bases for a
few days after a fan outcry.

Other popular sports have embraced advertising in a
prominent way without alienating fans.

"It sure hasn't hurt NASCAR, the most commercial
organization in the world in terms of sponsorship, has it?"
Kain said of the U.S. stock car racing association known for
its logo-plastered cars and driver uniforms.