The Philadelphia 76ers did not finish first in the NBA regular season (far, far from it). They’re hoping that fact leads them to a first overall pick at the NBA’s Draft Lottery. But one first that’s guaranteed is that the Sixers are the first NBA team to announce a shirt sponsor for its jersey.
StubHub’s logo will be the first jersey patch sponsorship among major sports leagues in American history. The StubHub patch will feature the brand’s recently launched new logo andit will be on the front left of Sixers’ game jerseys starting in the 2017-18 season. Back in April, the NBA approved the sale of jersey sponsorships as part of a three-year pilot program.
Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil says it was a very easy decision to make, and important to be the first to do it. “Would you be talking to me if we were the second team to do it? I’ll say that we think there is value, especially with social media and the way you can reach a market quickly, that there is a lot of value for our partners that we get out first, and get out very wide and loudly,” says O’Neil. “If we can find ways to translate that into transactions and business over the long haul, we all win.”
For Stubhub president Scott Cutler, being the first brand on an NBA shirt sends a message. “We’re a tech platform so being first and innovative is always the place where we want to be positioned,” says Cutler. “For us, having this opportunity to engage fans on the experiential level is where we want to be as a brand. And part of being a great brand is being considered first, so when we have an opportunity, we take it.”
When Co.Create spoke to advertising and design agencies about how brands might approach this opportunity, the most common sentiment was one of fit between brand and team. O’Neil says that one of the first questions discussed within the organization on jersey sponsorship was about that fit.
To come up with the right brand partner for this, there were four major points discussed among O’Neil and Sixers management. “Our list was really around, who is the most natural fit for in and around the game?” says O’Neil. “Secondly, to whom do moments and memories really matter to their business? And third, what companies share our values of being innovative and different? There may be a percent of the population that says, ‘I can’t believe you’re putting a logo on the jersey.” And that might not be for a more traditional, old school type brand, so we were looking for fit. And then fourth, in terms of process, you want to go talk to your existing partners first.”
The Sixers and Stubhub have had a business relationship for the last five years, and O’Neil says after they came up with a shortlist of potential partners, Cutler was his first call. “We started thinking about how this might lend itself to the Stubhub movement towards creating fan experiences, and that’s what we’re about, it’s the business we’re in, so it was a very good fit,” says O’Neil. “And no disrespect to my friends at Doritos, but we were looking for a partner that was very much in the space, part of the the experience of the game.”
From Stubhub’s point of view, the brand has traditionally been very transaction oriented, but wants to become a bigger part of the emotional fan experience. “Experiences are the new currency, it’s more valuable than the goods for millennials,” says Cutler. “It’s these experiences, these captured moments that you share with your social networks and communities, and if we can be part of that even in a small way, it’s very powerful for our brand.”
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the Sixers were first for jersey sponsors. It’s a team and franchise that, like hoping for a high pick in the 2016 NBA draft, this is an opportunity to close the book on the trainwreck that was the team’s season this year. The Sixers also share ownership ties with English Premier League team Crystal Palace, so integrating sponsors on jerseys is far from a foreign concept, and O’Neil says that perspective helped bolster their confidence in diving in to these sponsorship waters previously untapped in major North American sports.
“It’s more just given us a comfort level with this opportunity, where others may hesitate,” says O’Neil. “For some it might take a minute to think about it, others it might take a month, and others it might take a year. For us, it took a second.”
Starting in the 2017-18 season StubHub’s jersey patch will be included on all jerseys sold at Sixers’ home games.