SALT LAKE CITY — It was a hastily assembled gathering. I was in Sun Valley in the 1980s for the Big Sky media day, when a wire service reporter asked if I could attend a special impromptu writers-only meeting.
That's where I heard the dreaded news: Certain advertisers wanted to commit the unthinkable act of buying advertising space on the front page of newspaper sections.
At that time it wasn't even the front page of the paper they coveted, just the inside sections like metro, sports and features. The consensus of those in attendance was that this simply couldn't happen. Never would journalism stoop so low as to sell space on the outside pages. It amounted to sacrificing news for profits.
I think everyone knows what happened after that.
"Strip ads," as they're called in the industry, are commonplace today.
Which brings me to my current subject: The NBA is planning to sell a small space on the player uniforms to advertisers.
As the real estate slogan goes, it's all about location, location, location.
It's just a matter of time before NBA uniforms look like NASCAR and soccer uniforms, or maybe even the message board at a Laundromat. Where there's money to be made, it's not much of a question anymore.
Still, that's not terrible news. If it really is a matter of survival for some teams, I say go ahead. Back when I used to sit on the front row of the Jazz games — those seats are long gone to wealthy fans now — I joked about selling signage on the back of my shirt. I still wonder if Dr Pepper or Pizza Hut would have paid for the space between my shoulders.
It has taken a long time to get to a place where I don't much care where the advertising falls. I still love Notre Dame Stadium, where NBC is the only signage in view. I can't imagine the New York Yankees messing up those pinstripes. At the same time, this all reminds me of the 1980s when the Sun Bowl in El Paso was renamed the John Hancock Bowl. I called some blustery spokesman from the insurance company and asked if he was bothered by the loss of tradition.
He somewhat huffily pointed out that when you buy the church organ, you get to pick the music. Then he noted they weren't paying big dollars to keep their name hidden.
Now that he put it that way …
The NBA plans to sell 2-by-2 insignias on the shoulder of the uniforms. Nothing gaudy, just a discreet little patch. Yet estimates are that it could bring in $100 million for the league's teams, or $3.3 million per team. That's nearly enough to pay Gordon Hayward's and Alec Burks' combined salaries.
Adam Silver, the NBA's No. 2 boss, told ESPN.com "I think it's likely that we'll do something, implement something, some sort of plan for the fall."
The ads are expected to appear in 2013-14.
I know it's crass. I can't picture Willis Reed limping onto the court for the championship game with a Coca-Cola sign on his shirt. It's hard for me to imagine John Stockton wearing a jersey with a car dealership imprint, not even his own. But Kevin Durant and LeBron James?
I can see that.
History is one thing, economics another.
American sports fans should get over the idea of traditional uniforms and start thinking about energy drink advertising. Soon that little patch will have annexed the rest of the NBA uniforms. Do I like it? Better than I like the possibility of the Jazz moving to Anaheim.1 comment on this story
Meanwhile, the teams will be tsking and sighing all the way to the bank.