TicketManager | Hawks, Knicks Take Divergent Paths to Patch Deals

NBA jersey patch partnerships continue to produce intriguing case studies and valuable lessons for sponsorship practitioners, students and anyone else interested in the sports marketing space.

Consider news that broke last week courtesy of the U.K.’s SportBusiness. In an exclusive article, longtime sponsorship journalist Matthew Glendinning reported that a prospective patch deal between the New Yorks Knicks and the Saudi Arabian state-funded entertainment and sports festival Riyadh Season was close to being consummated prior to the October start of the season before it was snuffed out at the eleventh hour by team ownership.

Instead, the Madison Square Garden Sports Corp.-owned club took the court for its opening game with the logo of its corporate sibling Sphere Entertainment adorning the players’ uniforms for the season. The Knicks had gone to market seeking $30 million a year for the patch ID and associated benefits.

SportBusiness reports that New York City mayor Eric Adams was informed about the potential Saudi deal and let Knicks leadership know of his opposition to a partnership with the Saudi General Entertainment Authority’s winter event in the kingdom’s capital city. While the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund that controls the GEA, has made a huge splash with investments and sponsorships across the international sports scene, the Knicks patch deal would have been the first partnership between a Saudi organization and one of the major U.S. leagues.

The Knicks likely put the GEA on its prospect list because the authority was the first advertiser on the Sphere in Las Vegas, where it promoted the October 28 Tyson Fury-Francis Ngannou heavyweight boxing match in Riyadh. With that connection and the PIF’s deep pockets, the GEA represented low-hanging fruit that could be picked quickly.

Compare such a prospecting path to the one the Atlanta Hawks took to securing the YMCA of Metro Atlanta as its jersey patch partner for this season. As reported by Sports Business Journal, Hawks chief revenue officer Andrew Saltzman got the idea to approach the Y after speaking at a September gathering of COOs from across the YMCA of the USA’s local chapters.

As quoted by SBJ, Saltzman said, “At that meeting, we kept hearing about [the Y’s] push for relevance and building brand. They need to deliver the message that the Y isn’t just a gym and a pool, but a place for community. The light went on. I thought this was the way. … Ownership has always told us the team is a civic asset, so here’s a way to show that. We weren’t chasing the biggest number; we wanted the right brand.”

After mutually determining that the Metro Atlanta YMCA, not the national organization, would be the appropriate unit to fund a potential deal, the Hawks engaged in a relatively fast seven-week negotiation period that delved into the authentic connections between the organization and the sport of basketball and uncovered other synergies as well. All of that was backed up with research and analytics from Excel Sports Management, which the team had hired in 2022 to help sell its patch inventory.

The deal was concluded just after the start of the season, with contract terms kept private. The Y is currently activating the partnership with an offer for new members who join before February 5 to have their joining fee waived and be entered into a sweepstakes to win tickets and a VIP courtside experience at the Hawks home game on March 30.

Without declaring either route the two teams took as better or worse than the other, it is very revealing to look at the steps along the way that ultimately led to the Y and Sphere patches hitting the hardwood.