It's a natural fit and we're very pleased to be associated with you and fight cancer in this way. —Jazz owner Gail Miller
SALT LAKE CITY — When the NBA announced last spring that team jerseys would include an advert patch beginning in the 2017-18 season, disgruntled fans voiced their dissatisfaction with players turning into walking billboards.
The grumbling group didn’t want their sport to turn into NASCAR or soccer, which both prominently feature ads on uniforms and equipment.
The Utah Jazz’s patch sponsor came up with an innovative and philanthropic way to turn what many deemed to be a negative into a positive.
Instead of branding future Jazz jerseys with its logo, Utah-based Qualtrics opted to put the name of its cancer-research-fundraising charity — 5 For The Fight — on the partner patch that will be sewn onto the front left shoulder of Utah uniforms beginning next season.
“It’s a natural fit and we’re very pleased to be associated with you and fight cancer in this way,” Jazz owner Gail Miller said. “It’s so inspiring because all of us can be a part of this fight to get cancer eradicated.”
The deal cost Qualtrics more than $10 million for three years, but the company’s co-founder and CEO, Ryan Smith, believes this cause is worth every penny.
“Everyone who knows me knows how hard it is to put something besides Qualtrics on the jersey patch, but it’s the right thing to do,” Smith said. “It’s pretty much the first like this where there’s actually a campaign that’s going on. We’re excited.”
The 5 For The Fight slogan is a call to action for a global campaign that aims to motivate everybody to donate $5 to cancer research. Smith is hoping to raise at least $50 million in an effort to battle a disease that infects 1.6 million new Americans every year.
“I’m grateful that the Utah Jazz can provide a platform to reach out to so many people,” Miller said. “It really does reflect who we are at the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies because as we do business we understand we have an obligation to enrich lives and to make the world a better place, and this certainly will do that.”
Miller encouraged Jazz fans to support the cause, which gives 100 percent of donations to support groundbreaking cancer research such as University of Utah Health Care oncologist Dr. Joshua D. Schiffman’s studies on the possibilities of mimicking cancer-fighting proteins in elephants. Donations can be made at www.5ForTheFight.org or at www.paypal.com/fight.
“I think maybe $50 million is not enough,” Miller said. “I think we might go beyond that.”
Jazz president Steve Starks described the actions by Smith and Qualtrics as being “ambitious altruism.”
The NBA’s four other patch pairings that have been announced include the Philadelphia 76ers and StubHub, the Sacramento Kings and Blue Diamond Almonds, the Boston Celtics and G.E., and the Brooklyn Nets and Infor.
“We believe today that we are an example of how organizations can truly work together for the greater good,” Starks said.
Qualtrics has also partnered with the Jazz to provide analytics and exclusive fan experience insights via detailed polling using the company’s customer experience management software.
“We’re super excited to be part of the Jazz family and to be part of everything that’s going on here in Utah,” Smith said. “I grew up a Jazz fan as a young kid.”
This cause hits close to home for Smith. In fact, Qualtrics traces its roots back to 15 years ago when Smith's father was diagnosed with what they thought to be terminal cancer. The son left BYU during his sophomore year and returned home to spend time with his dad, whom they thought only had months to live. The two began working on a tech project together, and that eventually evolved into Qualtrics. Smith's dad, by the way, survived his bout with cancer.
“We vowed,” Smith said, “that if the company ever made any money we would make it our mission to support cancer research.”
Qualtrics was one of five local companies the Jazz approached about becoming a patch partner. Steve Miller, vice chairman of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies Board of Directors, reached out and Smith was intrigued.
"The next thing I know, I get a box in the mail from the Jazz with our Qualtrics logo on it, and I was like, 'This is like music to my ears,'" Smith said. "We have a full clothing brand. Everything is Qualtrics everywhere. Then we started really thinking about it and we said, 'Could this be a reality? Could this be something that Qualtrics and our employees within all of our offices rally around?'"
The more Qualtrics management bandied the idea about, the more it seemed like it would do more good to go with the charitable 5 For The Fight idea over the company branding.
"We've got to find a cure," Smith said. "And we need everyone."
Qualtrics and Jazz brass like that the 5 For The Fight logo can apply to having five players engaged in a competitive cause on the court, too — not to mention that this is the fifth announced partnership between sponsors and NBA teams.
"There couldn’t be a better organization to do this with," Smith said. "I think this is going to make people think a little bit differently about the NBA and the patch and all of the things that can be done."
While the Miller family has contributed to cancer research, the funds from this sponsorship will not be earmarked for that cause. Fifty percent of the sponsorship fees go to the players and the other half go to a pool for NBA teams.
"As we started talking to Qualtrics early on, they just said, 'Look, the platform of the Jazz and the NBA and our organization together can have a multiplier effect that could far exceed the money that they're using to buy the jersey patch," Starks said. "Really it was a platform to raise more money, more awareness and just the start of something."
Starks knows this patch concept is a touchy subject for many fans. He even referred to the jerseys as being "sacred space" because it intertwines a player with the team and a community.
The Jazz president is confident the cause-related jersey patches will be viewed positively.
"I think all fans squint a little when they think about a corporate logo on the jersey, but when they do something like this, it's like, 'You know what? We can get behind that,'" Starks said. "That can unify a fan base and a city, and hopefully it just spreads like wildfire."