NBA Referees to Sport Sponsor Patches at All-Star Event

NBA broadens commercial reach to officiating uniforms, enhancing visibility.

by Nouman Rasool
NBA Referees to Sport Sponsor Patches at All-Star Event
© Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

In an innovative move to further integrate corporate partnerships into the fabric of the league, the NBA is set to introduce sponsored patches on referee uniforms, a first in its history. This development, announced by the league on Thursday, marks a significant expansion of commercial branding within the NBA, aligning with a trend seen in other global sports.

Starting from the All-Star Game on February 18, NBA officials will sport shirts adorned with Emirates Airlines patches, positioned just below the NBA logo on the left chest. This change is not just a one-off for the All-Star festivities but will continue as the regular season progresses after the All-Star break.

Expanding League Sponsorships

The integration of sponsored patches will also extend to other leagues under the NBA umbrella. G League referees are set to wear these patches from the beginning of the 2024-25 season, while WNBA officials will follow suit in their 2025 season.

This move is a significant element of the broader partnership with Emirates, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In a multiyear deal, Emirates emerges as the NBA's global airline partner. The airline's involvement doesn't stop at uniform branding; it also extends to sponsoring the NBA in-season tournament, now rebranded as the Emirates NBA Cup.

This strategy of incorporating sponsored patches was initially adopted by the NBA during the 2017-18 season for player jerseys, a venture that has reportedly generated substantial revenue for the teams. This practice is commonplace in sports like soccer, where player jerseys have long been used as valuable advertising spaces.

The NBA's decision coincides with a period of increased viewership on major networks and heightened visibility of referees due to more frequent on-screen appearances. The league's referees are now more prominent during broadcasts, especially when they announce rulings over the in-arena microphone following coach's challenges.

These challenges involve reviewing replays of contentious calls, a process that has become more frequent. In the 2019-20 season, referees reviewed 633 challenges, approximately 0.59 per regular-season game. This number has increased notably in the current season, with 765 challenges reviewed so far, averaging 1.03 per game.

This strategic shift by the NBA not only reflects a keen understanding of marketing dynamics but also underscores the league's commitment to innovation and global partnership expansion. The integration of Emirates Airlines into the league's branding ecosystem is a testament to the NBA's vision of leveraging sports as a platform for diverse international collaborations.