This season, for the first time ever, teams in the NBA can wear advertisements on their jerseys. So far, more than half the league’s teams have announced a sponsor. And more than half those sponsors have a connection to private equity or venture capital.
For company executives, the appeal is simple: Getting their logos in front of the millions of eyeballs that are directed toward each NBA game, whether that's in person, on television or in a YouTube clip. And for that right, some of them are paying a pretty penny.
Who are the companies with PE and VC ties who are now sponsoring more than 25% of the NBA? And what sort of deals have they signed? Here's a closer look:
Michael Mauboussin: Here’s what active managers can do
Just nine days before the start of the preseason, the operator of an ecommerce platform agreed to put its logo on the jerseys of the Los Angeles Lakers, reportedly paying between $12 million and $14 million per year in a three-year deal. That's the second-largest contract of those sponsors that have announced their financial terms—and the largest for a team that doesn't have Stephen Curry.
The company is the provider of a shopping app that focuses on unbranded low-price goods, often shipping products straight to customers from a base of manufacturers in China. While Wish's logo is usually a Twitter-like sky blue, it will appear in purple and white or yellow on the Lakers' jerseys to better match the team's color scheme—a sign of the balancing act that may be required to negotiate with teams who have already established international brands of their own.
Wish isn't the only unicorn getting in on the NBA action. Valued at an estimated $2.5 billion earlier this year, Qualtrics agreed back in February to sponsor the Utah Jazz—but the company's logo won't appear on the Jazz jerseys. Instead, the team will wear patches promoting 5 For The Fight, a Qualtrics-backed charity seeking $5 individual donations for cancer research. The Utah-based business will pay about $4 million per year for the sponsorship, according to Forbes.
Qualtrics makes software used to conduct research and collect data, with the intent of improving customer and employee experiences for large companies, business schools and other enterprises. The company's latest funding was a $180 million round in April at a $2.5 billion valuation led by Insight Venture Partners and Accel, with Sequoia also investing. All three of those firms also participated in Qualtrics' $150 million Series B in 2014.
Exactly a week before the season began, the provider of website-creation services announced a multi-year sponsorship agreement with the New York Knicks, the financial details of which were kept under wraps. The deal continued a trend of geographic proximity: Just like the deals involving Wish and Qualtrics, the Squarespace sponsorship unites a company and a team that are both based in the same state.
The digital health company struck an agreement in August to put its logo on the uniforms of the Atlanta Hawks, with the company paying somewhere between $2.5 million and $10 million for the jersey real estate, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Co-founded by television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, Sharecare operates a platform designed to provide personalized health and wellness information.
The company has raised more than $200 million in previous VC funding, reaching a $513 million valuation with a $33 million round in 2016. Sharecare raised a growth round in May from Summit Partners that brought the company's total funding to "more than $300 million," per a company press release. Its other backers include Hearst Ventures and Invest Michigan.
A whopping $20 million: that's how much the Tokyo-based ecommerce company will reportedly pay each of the next three years to put its logo on the jerseys of the Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champions. Rakuten has said the sponsorship is a key addition to its international ambitions—already a major name in Japan and other parts of the globe, Rakuten hopes that an association with the best basketball team in the world will help expand its brand in the US. Two years ago, the company established a US headquarters in San Francisco.
While Rakuten is publicly traded in Tokyo, the company has reportedly received previous backing from various venture investors, including Intel Capital and MENA Venture Investments.
The designer of wearable technology agreed in June to sponsor the Minnesota Timberwolves. Unlike some of the other sponsors on this list, there's a clear connection between Fitbit's products and the NBA: professional sports are increasingly a testing ground for some of the latest developments in wearables. While Fitbit has been publicly traded since 2015, the company had previously raised more than $65 million in equity financing from firms such as True Ventures, Foundry Group and Felicis Ventures.
Just like Fitbit, there's an obvious connection between StubHub—which operates a secondhand ticket marketplace—and professional basketball. The company seemed to agree: StubHub and the Philadelphia 76ers unveiled their reported $5 million-per-year partnership way back in May 2016, becoming the first NBA tandem to publicly announce a sponsorship. StubHub is owned by eBay, but it previously raised several rounds of VC, reaching a post-money valuation of $140.7 million in 2006, the year before its sale.
The new sponsor of the Brooklyn Nets is a creator of enterprise software and other cloud-based business services that received more than $2 billion in backing from Koch Equity Development earlier this year. Its other PE backers include Golden Gate Capital and Summit Partners. Infor will reportedly pay $8 million per year to put its logo on Brooklyn's jerseys, despite the fact the Nets have been one of the NBA's worst teams in recent years—an apparent nod to the importance of the New York market.
The famed maker of motorcycles announced a deal in August to put its logo on the Milwaukee Bucks' jerseys for the next three seasons. While the Milwaukee-based business has been publicly traded for about 30 years, it was believed to be the subject of a recent buyout attempt, when rumors swirled last summer that KKR was nearing a deal to take over the company.
Here's a full list of the other businesses that have signed agreements to get their logos on NBA jerseys this year:
- Western Union (Denver Nuggets)
- Flagstar Bank (Detroit Pistons)
- Sun Life (Toronto Raptors)
- Disney (Orlando Magic)
- GE (Boston Celtics)
- Goodyear (Cleveland Cavaliers)
- Blue Diamond Almonds (Sacramento Kings)
- Ultimate Software (Miami Heat)
From the archives: Barbarians at the ticket gate: The PE moguls who own 1/4 of the NBA
Check out our previous coverage of the intersection between PE, VC and sports.
Article by Kevin Dowd, PitchBook