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Philadelphia 76ers Become First NBA Team To Advertise On Jerseys


The Philadelphia 76ers are leading the way on a change in major league sports and some of the basketball team's fans are furious. A Few sample tweets - I'm going to light this jersey on fire. Another one - you know, this makes you look even worse than before, right? And how about this? As a Sixers fan, I hate this. The jersey should be advertisement-free.

That's right. The change that has fans up in arms is the team jersey will sport a two-inch patch with a corporate logo - the ticket company StubHub starting in 2017. 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil joins us to defend his move. Thanks for coming on the program.

SCOTT O'NEIL: Thanks for having me. That's a nice, warm welcome.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, isn't it? So why'd you decide to ruin sports?

O'NEIL: (Laughter) It's amazing. The sun came up today. I was starting to get concerned with all those mad tweets. I will tell you this. The good news is we have an incredible commissioner - Adam Silver - who is a thought leader and progressive, very business-friendly. And we have a board made up of the 30 owners that has the same perspective. And I think I'm very fortunate and proud to say that it's very tastefully done. You've got a 2-and-a-half inch by 2-and-a-half inch patch right over the heart.

I just want to make sure that we keep things in perspective here. As someone who's traveled around the world watching and participating in sporting events, you know, I've had the chance to see football matches in England and hockey in Prague and basketball games in Italy. And I can tell you; they were all adorned with jerseys with logos, and they've all managed to run good businesses and have fans that buy them at retail. So I think we're in good shape on that front.

SHAPIRO: So you say, let's keep things in perspective. This is just a 2-inch patch. But is this just the camel's nose under tent, that pretty soon players are going to look like, you know, NASCAR drivers just slathered in logos?


SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

O'NEIL: I will tell you that it's a little different sport. And the drivers there, you know - they don't have this much centralized revenue that comes out of these teams. So I don't think you'll see a much bigger patch or certainly more patches than you'll see on our jersey with the StubHub logo.

SHAPIRO: What is the reason for this happening now? I mean, why didn't this happen a decade or two ago?

O'NEIL: I certainly wish it had. You know, we'd been talking about this at the NBA board meetings for five-some-odd years. Oftentimes change is difficult for people. You know, I have a 9-year-old daughter who has trouble, like, leaving anything behind that's different. You know, I'm a little different. I don't want to be dialing out on a rotary phone anymore. So for me, the iPhone does me just well. You know, I think flying on a plane beats riding on a train, you know? I - that's just kind of the way I go through the world.

SHAPIRO: Those are some comparisons - a 2-inch batch on a jersey compared to the progress from the rotary phone to the iPhone or a train...

O'NEIL: Thank You.

SHAPIRO: ...To an airplane (laughter).

O'NEIL: I'm just trying to help.

SHAPIRO: Now, I don't want to be rude, but I've got to ask. And I think you probably know where I'm going here.

O'NEIL: I have no idea.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) The 76ers were the worst team in the NBA this season. They had the third worst season in NBA history. If the team had had a better year, you would still be doing this.

O'NEIL: Oh, for sure.

SHAPIRO: You don't see the Warriors rushing to put a logo on their jersey.

O'NEIL: Oh, they'll be out to the market selling it shortly. Have no fear. You know, this is an organization that prides itself on being innovative and thinking differently. In fact, our strategy on the court, if you dig in, do a little research, is much more about positioning for the future and taking a long-term approach to sustaining success. So we've gone through three years of really tough performance on the court as a strategy to kind of reset, retool and build through the draft so that three years from now the organization looks very different and exponentially better.

In fact, we managed to double our season ticket base and grow 30 percent a year in our sponsorship base. So the market certainly is responding positively, and we're either a genius at marketing and sales, or it's the best market in the world or some combination of both.

SHAPIRO: Do you think the StubHub logo is going to improve performance on the court?

O'NEIL: (Laughter) Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

O'NEIL: You know, I think the way it works, which is sometimes difficult to translate for fans, is that as aggressively as we can build revenue, we just take the money and invest it right back into players and the team.

SHAPIRO: Scott O'Neil is the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers. Thank you, Sir.

O'NEIL: Hey, thanks for having me. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.