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NFL to sell branded seat coverings to increase sponsorship revenue

The National Football League (NFL) will allow teams to cover stadium seats closest to the field of play with camera-visible signage to create additional revenue streams, as franchises deal with the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Franchises will already be required to tarp off the first six to eight rows of their stadium for the new campaign, designed to reduce the proximity between players and supporters, theoretically limiting exposure to coronavirus, so utilising this space is an obvious move.

Currently, the league utilises a ’40-foot rule’ which bans signage and advertising 40-foot above the field of play, limiting the exposure of the advertising of brands and only allowing its own partners, Nike, Microsoft and Gatorade, to be exposed on television. This rule will be relaxed in the leagues effort to generate more income with NFL owners approving the new inventory on June 25.

NFL’s chief revenue officer, Renie Anderson, has said that the covering of seats “will provide clear separation between the players and the fans.” Adding: “There’s no requirement for the clubs to integrate advertising. It’s somewhat of an added benefit if there is an opportunity there.”

This decision is similar to the one which is being utilised by European clubs as competitions resume behind closed doors.

The NFL is yet to finalise its medical procedures for players, coaching staff, team and league personnel. According to NFL Network, the plan is to test players for Covid-19 three times a week and isolate those who test positive. Chief medical officer for the NFL, Dr. Allen Sills said last week, “Make no mistake, this is no easy take. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed."

No final decision has been made about allowing fans to attend games in stadiums, and local governments may make the decisive decision. It currently remains unclear whether the NFL will enable teams to welcome fans into their stadiums if local regulations permit it.

Elsewhere, Major League Soccer (MLS) is expected to allow its teams to sell sponsorship patches on shorts this year in an attempt to offset the devastating financial losses of the global Covid-19 pandemic. MLS commissioner Don Garber has said he expects the league to take a $1 billion revenue hit due to the huge economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, which has enforced the need to stage a summer tournament at Orlando’s at a neutral single-site location.

With a heightened need for additional revenue streams, shorts sponsorships will also enable MLS teams to help meet contractual obligations with local sponsors, who, for example, have signage in stadiums which have closed for a number of months. MLS has allowed right-sleeve sponsors since the 2020 season. Among the teams that have already signed up to the initiative are Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, DC United, Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC.

It has also been reported that a number of MLS team want their affiliate teams in the USL Championship and USL League One to sit out the lower-league season for financial reasons. The second-tier USL Championship and third-tier League One recently signalled their intent to resume competition this year.

The United States Soccer Federation says it is projecting a deficit of nearly $28 million for the 2020 fiscal year, which is $16.8 million more than planned.

US Soccer has already implemented a number of cutbacks including shutting down its boys and girls’ Development Academy, closing down the majority of its youth national teams until 2021, as well as staff pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs.