US sport and sport in Europe: the two faces of sponsorship

If the North American economic model tends to diverge from that in vogue in the majority of European countries, this statement is also true in the field of sports sponsorship. Indeed, footballers, handball players and other European basketball players have a habit of sporting sponsors on their jerseys, but this is not the case across the Atlantic insofar as US sports have always been resistant to it. A difference in perception that has lasted for several decades now, but could very soon end to the chagrin of supporters.

How long have athletes playing in Europe sporting sponsors on their jerseys? A difficult question to which very few fans of football, rugby or any other team sport that one might qualify as general public would be able to answer. Nothing could be more normal, insofar as the phenomenon dates back several decades, if we take football as an example, sponsorship of shirts first appeared in Italy in the 1950s, before arriving in France some 20 years later.

Since then, generations of supporters, all sports combined, have become accustomed to the idea, which, beyond the financial interest it represents for clubs, sometimes allows the identity of a club to be affirmed, or to underline its links with a specific entity. No need to be an expert on the issue in order to understand why the PSG, the football club of the most touristic city in the world, has the hotel group Accor as a sponsor, or even why the Guingamp team proudly sports sponsors such as as Armor Lux or Breizh Cola on his tunics.

However, this culture of sponsorship is surprisingly not very popular across the Atlantic, not to say that it is openly rejected by supporters and US sports federations (NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL). It is possible to find sponsors on the jerseys of basketball players or even American football players playing in Europeans, but until now, it was unthinkable to do the same in Uncle Sam’s country.

Moreover, in a recent study conducted by YouGov Sport, 51% of NBA fans said they considered it inappropriate to have a sponsor placed in the center of the jerseys. Figures that go up to 63% in NFL, and 66% in NHL. A judgment without appeal.

However, insofar as sponsorship is one of the main sources of income for sports professionals, the idea is starting to gain ground, willingly despite, more particularly on the side of the MLB.

Of course, baseball fans don’t seem much more convinced than others. This same YouGov study underlines that only 17% of them would accept the idea, 27% would not be totally reluctant depending on the chosen sponsor, and 9% do not comment.

Unfortunately for the reluctant 47%, Major League Baseball does not seem willing to give up this new source of income, all the more so because it would compensate for the heavy financial losses due to the coronavirus crisis. Thus, the federation is seriously considering the establishment of sponsors both on the jerseys, but also on the helmets of the players, for the seasons to come.

Thus, US Baseball could well act as a full-scale test, in order to set up a new form of sponsorship, which has already made a place of choice within the MLS, as well as the WNBA since 2011.