18 months after jersey patches first showed up on NBA uniforms, the Oklahoma City Thunder became the 30th and final franchise to announce a jersey patch partner.
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, an Oklahoma City-based truck stop and convenience store company, will advertise on the 2.5-by-2.5-inch space for the next five years as part of an extension of the two entities’ existing partnership, the team announced Friday.
“We really appreciate that this is an Oklahoma brand that continues to see the value of supporting another Oklahoma brand,” says Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We love the fact that we’re connected like this as two bellwether brands for the state of Oklahoma.”
According to Byrnes, it’s no accident that the Thunder were so deliberate in their approach to fill the ad space. Oklahoma City is the NBA’s third-smallest market, ranking ahead of only New Orleans and Memphis in NBA market size, and with that reality comes a very small margin for error. Each decision must be scrutinized; each agenda, methodical. Everything is done with an eye on the bigger picture.
“As a general operating philosophy, we’ve always taken the long view on building our business,” Byrnes says. “The long view in how we create product, how we create content, how we treat our guests, how we think about investments. It’s always about building sustainability in the team and the organization, because, being in a small market, it really matters.”
To that end, Byrnes spent the better part of 18 months honing in on what partner could best help the Thunder on a national level. He says he was courted by a bevy of brands, with tech startups and consumer product companies being the most aggressive types of suitors. But as the search progressed, he kept returning to a familiar name.
Love’s has been a partner of the Thunder ever since the team relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008. Their most visible – and audible – collaboration is on the third level of the Chesapeake Energy Arena, better known in town as Love’s Loud City. Love’s also sponsors the Thunder’s kids camp and has courtside digital signage. The company boasts more than 480 stores in 41 states but, like the team, has designs on increasing its national imprint. The allure of a constant, visible, on-court presence brought them to the table. Ultimately, after what Byrnes calls “several months” of conversations, the two parties reached an agreement.
“We see Love’s on the same level as you would see any other national brand,” Byrnes says. “They align so well with our values of growth and innovation and customer service. We felt that the resources we could provide to them to amplify their story would resonate with us.”
Jersey patch partners have been a boon to the NBA’s bottom line. Partners range from corporate behemoths like General Electric, Disney and StubHub to smaller brands like Bumble, Qualtics and 5miles. No matter their origin, the financial impact has been immense: According to Yahoo’s Daniel Roberts, last seasons’ NBA sponsor spending increased 31% from the year before, ultimately topping the $1 billion mark for the first time in league history. $137 million of that came from sponsor patches, a number that will further increase this season now that all 30 teams have secured deals. Per Roberts, the average patch deal pays $6.5 million annually.
Oklahoma City will debut the new patch in Saturday’s home game against the Golden State Warriors. Financial terms were not disclosed, although Byrnes claims that “all of the ways you measure the business, we rank in the top 10 across the league, and this partnership is very much in line with that.”
Ultimately, Byrnes believes the deal’s greatest impact could lie in the ripple effects. “It sends a signal to the marketplace that we are… open for business,” he says, before noting that the team has taken aim at categories including wireless communications, automotive, airlines and the cloud.
“We’re hoping to send the signal to the marketplace that there are other opportunities as well,” he says. “We are a megaphone for the state of Oklahoma.”