Score one for the fans.
The news that the NBA has backed off of its plan to add advertising patches to its jerseys for the 2013-14 season is a huge win for fans who've grown weary of a sports landscape in which every surface, every element, every conceivable aspect of every game is treated as a salable commodity. For now, at least, the NBA's uniforms are not for sale.
As recently as a month ago, the uniform advertising initiative was viewed as a done deal. What led to the change of heart? According to my ESPN.com colleague Darren Rovell, the owners were concerned about navigating the complicated waters of team endorsements relative to player endorsements. What if a team wanted to wear a Gatorade patch while its top player had a Powerade endorsement?
But my own sources indicated that there was another problem, namely that the owners couldn't agree on how to divvy up the loot. If so, the collapse of the advertising plan serves them right.
It's not clear whether fan push-back also played a role in the owners' decision. In the three months since the uniform advertising plan was first floated, fans opposed to the initiative have flooded the NBA offices with emails and phone calls. Many of them also have expressed their opposition on Twitter, using the hashtag #NoUniAds.
The owners might not realize it, but the tabling of the ad initiative -- whatever the underlying reasons -- is as much of a victory for them and their teams as it is for the fans. Fans have an intense connection to their teams' uniforms and logos. That's why we keep rooting for (or against) a team, even as its roster changes because of trades, injuries, free agency and retirement. We root for that uniform, no matter who's wearing it. That's a unique form of brand loyalty -- one that shouldn't be cheapened by the presence of another brand. By preserving an ad-free uniform, the owners also are preserving that special bond between team and fan. If they want to sponsor the introduction of the starting lineups, or the halftime show, or even the free throws, be my guest. But leave the uniforms alone -- they're special.
Is it just a temporary victory? Could be, especially given that the other big NBA news today is that commissioner David Stern is retiring in 2014. Stern has been a longtime opponent of uniform ads. As recently as two weeks ago, he made it clear he was butting heads with the owners on this issue, saying, "I am not in favor of it, but I’m not standing in the way of it." The move toward uniform ads might be revived once he leaves in 2014, especially given that the new commissioner will be Adam Silver -- the executive who was spearheading the now-tabled advertising initiative. Or it could be revived even sooner.
But that's another battle for another day. For now, the NBA has backed away from a catastrophic ledge. That's a big win for everyone except the corporate sponsors who were looking to buy an ad patch. And don't worry too much about them -- there's bound to be something else in the arena for them to sponsor.