MLS authorizes gambling sponsorships on jerseys

Major League Soccer will become the first major American sports league to sell jersey sponsorship and stadium naming rights to companies in the sports betting and spirits industries.

While MLS had previously allowed such sponsorship for beer and wine companies, recent developments, including last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed states to legalize sports gambling, paved the way for the league to expand its rules regarding sponsorship.

In addition to allowing such sponsorships on the front of jerseys, MLS will begin selling sponsorships on the sleeves of its team's jerseys starting next season. Teams can also grant rights to sports betting companies to advertise within stadiums, during broadcasts, as well as have in-stadium betting, though such rights are subject to state law.

One league guideline indicates that all advertising for sports betting or spirits must be directed to an age-appropriate audience.

The aim of the changes, which were approved at the MLS Board of Governors meeting last month, is to increase fan engagement as well as revenue.

"The legalization of sports betting, and just the changing landscape of social mores and how the line between spirits, beer and wine is starting to dissolve, we felt that now was an appropriate time to make some adjustments," said Carter Ladd, the MLS VP of business development.

The move does come with some restrictions. Ladd added that MLS won't allow for sports betting companies to "access athletes," meaning there wouldn't be billboards with the athletes in conjunction with a sports betting sponsor, or run television ads featuring a player and a sports betting company.

"It would have to be more of an overarching integration with the club," he said.

Ladd added that spirits companies will only be allowed to use players over the age of 21 in their advertising.

The sight of sports betting companies on the front of jerseys has long been a staple of the sport in Europe. Ladd added that this connection overseas paved the way for MLS to adopt the change.

"Having sports betting companies on the front of jerseys is part of the fabric of the game internationally," said Ladd. "We want to be at the forefront of it here within North America and touch on the international relevancy of our sport."