If you’re watching the 2021 NBA Playoffs, you might notice the array of jerseys NBA teams are wearing throughout the post season (and regular season). It has evolved beyond the traditional home white and colored road uniforms. Now, all NBA teams have at least four different uniforms to choose from on any given night.
The extended collection of uniforms arose after Nike took over the licensing rights from adidas in 2017 to be the exclusive producer of NBA gear. Working with the league, Nike set out to aggressively expand the NBA’s apparel offering and capitalize on the game’s growing appeal globally. Today, each team has at least four jerseys: the typical home and away, in addition to “Earned”, “City”, and “Statement” editions that showcase new color ways and designs.
The NBA is not just a sports league, but also a multi-billion dollar business. A majority of its revenue is generated by what’s called Basketball Related Income, which encompasses ticket sales, concessions, TV deals, and merchandise sales. However 2020 and 2021 were difficult years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and major revenue channels like ticket sales and advertising deals were deeply cut. For the 2019-2020 season, the NBA’s revenue dropped 10% to $8.3 billion.
Prior to the pandemic, the NBA was already exploring new opportunities to grow its profit pie. This includes featuring advertisers on jerseys, just like in professional soccer leagues. In 2017, NBA teams were allowed to wear advertisers’ logos on their jerseys in the form of a small patch. Through this initiative, the leagues generated $150 million.
This got more creative with Nike on board as the main outfitter. Nike had been on a tear with college sports, giving schools (specifically the University of Oregon, whose football team has over 500 uniform combinations) new collections of uniforms every single year and brought this same concept to pro basketball. By producing new sets of jerseys every year for every team, it could drive incremental Basketball Related Income. Fanatics, which operates the NBA’s online store, said that 50% of jersey sales have been alternate jerseys since 2020. This helps boost up the potential salary cap, which helps increase average player salary.
Nike and the NBA are fuses two concepts to help drive revenue for both sides. First and foremost, they’re capitalizing off the desire to collect. Back in the day, die-hard fans of the Los Angeles Lakers could’ve only bought their favorite players’ home and away jerseys. This created a ceiling for jersey sales. Now, with all these new editions produced, fans not only have more to choose from, but also new jerseys to pursue the following years. This creates a sense of excitement and anticipation for the next jersey to drop, which will create repeat buyers.
Secondly, it can freshen up the overall basketball product presented to fans. In today’s age where every has a very short attention span, the ever changing aesthetics can capture people’s interest and nurture them as casual NBA fans. Players probably don’t mind too. They won’t get bored wearing the same get up every game and they’ll benefit with a minor pay bump in the upcoming salaries.
Check out some of the designs Nike produced over the years here.