For sale: CFL jersey sponsor rights

The Canadian Football League is set to sell some of its most valuable real estate — a patch of fabric on every player’s right shoulder.

Thursday morning the league will announce it’s opening up bidding for a leaguewide jersey sponsor for the 2018 season. Canadian Pacific has occupied that space the last three seasons, but its jersey deal expires after next month’s Grey Cup.

The league’s previous jersey sponsors have each been Canadian companies, but CFL executive Tyler Mazereeuw says the league isn’t restricting its search for a new jersey partner to Canada.

“We’re not going to limit ourselves. The world is changing,” said Mazereeuw, the league’s VP of corporate partnerships and licensing. “It could be an international brand looking to make an impact in Canada.”

While uniform sponsorships have long been common overseas and in Major League Soccer, North America’s biggest pro sports leagues are still hesitant to adopt ads on jerseys. The NBA began featuring sponsored jerseys last year, but MLB, the NFL, and the NHL still feature ad-free uniforms.

This season the Raptors will feature a Sun Life insurance logo on their jersey under a deal worth a reported $15 million over three years.

But sports executives say choosing a jersey sponsor doesn’t involve simply turning players into billboards for the company that bids the highest. Instead, logos on uniforms often reflect either a deep relationship between team and sponsor, or a feature a company with strong local ties.

Last season Blue Diamond Almonds agreed to pay $5 million annually for a spot on the Sacramento Kings jersey, a natural partnership given that company’s roots in Northern California. When GE signed on as the Celtics’ jersey sponsor, the Boston-based firm was already the team’s data analytics provider. And when the Toronto Wolfpack rugby league club emblazoned their jerseys with the Air Transat logo, the deal included transportation for teams visiting from England, and opportunities for the airline to sell travel packages to hardcore fans.

Mazereeuw says the CFL is similarly seeking a jersey sponsorship that’s part of a deeper partnership between the league and a brand.

But Mazereeuw says visibility alone makes the jersey patch valuable.

More than 2 million spectators attended CFL regular season games last year, while broadcasts averaged 553,000 viewers on TSN and another 130,000 on RDS. According to the league, 65 per cent of CFL-related images posted on social media feature player jerseys.

“You’re embedded within the content itself,” he said. “The brand that’s on that jersey goes along for the ride.”

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