September 2, 2010: When it comes to advertising in pro sports on uniforms or togs, Nascar takes the checkered flag. But Major League Soccer, taking its cue from European soccer, leads all team sports in America.
Jersey Shore may be a hot TV property, but jersey front is the hot property in sports. Due to the ongoing challenges of the economy and the desire of marketers to pool their resources in order to implement more powerful activation, MLS may very well be setting the stage for other pro team sports to follow.
Alaska Airlines has signed a deal to become the official airline marketing partner and jersey-front sponsor of the Portland Timbers, a pro soccer club that is scheduled to begin MLS play in 2011. The deal also makes Alaska Airlines the first airline jersey sponsor in the 15-year history of MLS.
Financial terms were not disclosed. However, jersey-front sponsorships with MLS clubs generally run between $1-$4 million per year, depending on other activations included in the deal.
More than 70% of MLS clubs now have jersey-front sponsors, by far the largest percentage among American pro sports teams. The WNBA has been making inroads in the category but currently has only four of its 12 teams with jersey-front sponsors.
In a similar situation, the fledgling United Football League has been selling the highly visible space on the front of team helmets to marketing partners.
Included among the MLS clubs with jersey-front sponsors are the Chicago Fire (Best Buy), Chivas USA, (Extra), Columbus Crew (Gidden), DC United (Volkswagen), Houston Dynamo (Amigo Energy), Los Angeles Galaxy (Herbalife), Real Salt Lake (XanGo), New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes (Amway), Seattle Sounders (Xbox 360 Live), Toronto FC (BMO) and the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps (Bell Canada), which also begin play in 2011.
The WNBA teams with jersey-front sponsors are the Los Angeles Sparks (Farmers Insurance), Seattle Storm (Microsoft's Bing), Phoenix Mercury (Lifelock) and the New York Liberty (Foxwoods). NBA commissioner David Stern and WNBA president Donna Orender said they anticipate more such deals moving forward.
Although industry analysts say the day that MLB, NBA and NFL executives allow jersey-front sponsorships may never be a reality, it has become less of a fantasy: The NBA and the NFL currently allow marketers other than official uniform suppliers to put their logos on practice jerseys. And given the challenges of its status and its strong ties to international audiences, the NHL may be the next pro league to yield that valuable piece of real estate to marketing dollars. although that, too, could not be in the immediate future.
Beginning in 2011, fans attending Timbers games at the newly renovated PGE Park in Portland also will see Alaska Airlines advertising throughout the stadium, including field-level animated digital signage. As part of the sponsorship, the airline will support the new Portland Timbers Community Fund, partnering with the team on several youth-based fitness and educational initiatives. In addition, the airline will donate 25 game-day tickets to underprivileged Portland-area youth at every home game as part of the Timbers "Tickets for Kids" program. Alaska Airlines also will be the presenting sponsor for all MLS Timbers youth soccer camps.
"[This] is a significant and defining moment for the MLS Timbers," Merritt Paulson, president of the Timbers, said in a statement. "Alaska Airlines as a jersey partner is a perfect marriage for us. Alaska has strong local roots, shares our unwavering commitment to outstanding customer service and offers unique promotional opportunities for our organization."
Timbers management said they would unveil the team's MLS uniforms and official training wear featuring the Alaska Airlines logo in December.
"More than 70% of MLS clubs now have jersey-front sponsors, by far the largest percentage among American pro sports teams."
According to Alaska Airlines president Brad Tilden, "Supporting Portland's hometown soccer team is the perfect fit for Alaska Airlines and the 2,300 Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air employees who call the greater Portland area home."
Added MLS commissioner Don Garber, "What makes this new partnership so special is the fact that Alaska Airlines has such a strong presence in Portland, helping to build excitement in a region already so rich in soccer tradition."
Together, Alaska Airlines, whose main hub is in Seattle, and sibling Horizon Air offer more nonstop flights (serving 25 different destinations), more daily flights (88 a day) and more California service (38 flights daily to 13 California destinations) from Portland International Airport, per the carrier.