LAS VEGAS -- Modernizing a game steeped in tradition is always a tricky course, but Thursday's NBA Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas suggests that the league has grown increasingly comfortable with using technology and corporate sponsorship to propel the NBA forward.
Next season, we'll see an expansion of instant replay. All flagrant foul calls will go for immediate review to determine whether they constitute a "Flagrant 1," the more egregious "Flagrant 2," or a garden-variety foul. During the last two minutes of regulation and the entirety of overtime, officials will consult video to confirm the accuracy of a goaltending call and to determine whether a defender was inside or outside the restricted area on a block/charge call.
Video replay has been part of the NBA since 2002, and the league has been making more situations eligible for replay at a steady pace over the past few years.
Most fans probably won't detect a radical change to the pace and contour of an NBA game with these additional three events added to the mix, but another likely change might jolt them:
Come fall, it's highly likely you'll see a small 2-inch-by-2-inch sponsorship patch stitched on the shoulder of your favorite player's game jersey.
"I think it's likely that we'll do something, implement something, some sort of plan for the fall," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. "I think it's fair to say that our teams were excited about the opportunity and think there is potentially a big opportunity in the marketplace to put a two-by-two patch on the shoulder of our jerseys."
How big an opportunity? In 2010, the 20 teams in the English Premier League generated $178 million in revenue from shirt sponsorships. Granted, a 2-by-2 insignia probably won't fetch anywhere near what an EPL team gets for draping a sponsor's logo seam-to-seam across the chest of its players, at least not initially. But even a fraction of $178 million has to be enticing to NBA owners.
"Our view is we think, on an aggregate basis, league-wide, our 30 teams could generate in total $100 million by selling that patch on jerseys, per season," Silver said.
Corporate sponsorship has always been a thorny issue in North American sports. Purity has traditionally guided our experience as fans. If Sandy Koufax pitched in starched Dodger whites, then shouldn't Clayton Kershaw? And if Bill Russell won championships with that clean white-and-green uniform, then wouldn't it be a shame to sully Kevin Garnett with a Citgo decal?
For a league that just endured a lockout, quaintness is not in vogue. Silver said that he sensed there wasn't a single owner opposed to sponsorships on jerseys. While it's possible a few players might object -- after all, they're the ones who will be projecting that brand into your den -- revenue from jersey sponsorships will be tallied as Basketball Related Income (BRI), half of which goes to players.
Once you get past aesthetics, it's difficult to find a rationale against jersey sponsorships. Shorter contracts and increased player movement have given more weight than ever to the Seinfeldian notion that NBA jerseys are just laundry, vessels that carry the true product -- the collective talents of the guys playing the games, jamming the ball, blocking the shots, draining the 3s. If a corporate logo doesn't compromise those skills and actually strengthens the fortunes of the league, then it's an idea that should be carried to fruition.
There are still some fine points to be worked out. The league has exclusive relationships with corporate sponsorships, which means teams wouldn't be allowed to sell that real estate on the shoulder to competitors, even if the price is right. Lists like those need to be drawn up before teams' marketing departments start pressing the flesh. After that, teams will need lead time to approach potential sponsors, then reach deals with them. At that point, adidas would affix the patch onto all jerseys sold for retail.
Fans who don't like the patch will have one recourse: They can refrain from buying those jerseys. More likely, that 4-square-inch patch will fade into the background because, when a sport is healthy, the event takes center stage.