Ads on MLB uniforms? 'There are certain things that shouldn't be for sale'

"The uniform, people feel really strongly about uniforms. It really is this irrational attachment. It doesn’t make sense. If I love the Mets and I hate the Yankees and the Mets and Yankees pulled off a trade for all 25 guys, swamping rosters, who would I root for? It’s obvious I would root for the 25 guys who were now wearing Mets uniforms even if I hated those 25 guys the day before. That makes no sense. It’s completely irrational. But that’s the power of the uniform and that’s why you don’t mess with it."

Paul Lukas understands the topic of uniforms perhaps more than anybody on Earth.

It started with the kid who had to make the stirrups on his Little League uniform just so, continued via notebooks full of doodles, and ultimately landed with a column on the subject that became the blog, a profitable 15-year-old passion project.

"It was," he explained to, "basic geekitude."

So when news came down Wednesday that part of the owners' proposal to restart baseball included putting ads on the uniforms for at least the next two seasons, Lukas took it to heart.

There was a reason outside of games in other countries, MLB rules prohibited such a thing. 

"To me, there are just certain things that shouldn’t be for sale," Lukas explained. "Just because you can sell something doesn’t mean you should. The baseball uniform, and the sports uniform in general, is one of those things.

"A uniform is really powerful identifier. It’s a sad thing, the idea of putting a VISA ad … I’m not a fan. Can they do it? Yeah, they can. But I think it’s unfortunate."

This is no done deal. As we have discovered throughout the past few months the moving parts in these negotiations come and go on a regular basis. And this is one of those moving parts.

If you're wondering if there have been examples of what might be lying in wait, there has. Dating back to when the Mets and Cubs put ads on their sleeves and helmets for the 2000 season-opener in Japan every time a big league club has ventured to play in countries other than the United States and Canada the uniform rules have been altered.

In 2008 when the Red Sox visited Tokyo, for instance, David Ortiz could be seen wearing a batting helmet with a big "Ricoh" sticker on the side. And every Red Sox player had to play with "EMC" on their right sleeve.

UniformsGetty Images

And last summer in London the Red Sox were promoting "Biofreeze" every time they walked on the field.

The NBA has been doing it since 2017, and soccer teams across the globe are peppered with ads (although that is in part to make up for the lack of television commercials). But Major League Baseball uniforms becoming full-time billboards? Lukas, for one, doesn't feel good about it at all.

"Personally I think all of those look terrible," he said. "I’ve always been opposed to it. I don’t even like to see the manufacture logos on any part of the uniform because the team uniform already stand for a brand. That’s why we root for it. That’s why Jerry Seinfeld says we root for laundry. It doesn’t matter who is wearing the uniform. You can swap out the players, we still root for that uniform. That is an unusually intense form of brand loyalty and I always thought it shouldn’t be cheapened or watered down by the presence of other brand. When I’m rooting for the Mets I don’t want to see a McDonald’s ad or a Nike logo or really any other logo but a Mets’ logo, personally."

So, the question should be asked: Are these ads really worth it?

These aren't Little League teams, who are oftentimes dependent on businesses to fund their uniforms. (See, "Chico's Bail Bonds" in the movie The Bad News Bears.) "When I played Little League we had the local liquor store, which when you think about … But we literally wouldn’t have had uniforms. He paid for those uniforms," remembered Lukas.

And for some highly-visible teams there might not be a significant payday, but as Lukas points out the current landscape of baseball might not be the best place for businesses to be looking for springboards back to profitability.

"Even if the season starts is it going to finish," he said. "They might have to shut it down if a bunch of players test positive. Is it really the best showcase for an advertiser? Is this the platform they want to use? So I’m not so convinced it is actually going to happen, or if it happens for a few teams it will happen for all teams. Personally, I’m disappointed. I hope it doesn’t happen.

"Baseball in a normal season plays more games and therefore offers more exposure than those other sports but of course are going to have fewer games this season, if there is a season. I think it’s very much a case by case basis. It’s reasonable to think the Reds would not command as much of a price on their uniforms as say the Dodgers."

But the likelihood is that the ads are coming. It really started with the "New Era" logo on the players' hats during the 2016 postseason, which carried over to the 2017 regular season and had continued with the uniform manufacturer's logo in 2020, ("The only good thing about the delay the season is that it has delayed that," Lukas lamented.)

Now, evidently it is all part of getting baseball back on the field.

"It’s part of a slow drip, drip, drip of things that makes the experience a little less enjoyable and pokes a little splinter in your brain. It’s irritating," the uniform expert explained. "It is the end of the world? No. Is it a deal-breaker that will make you stop watching? For most people, no. But does it actually make things a little less enjoyable? Yeah, I think it does for a lot of fans, and I think that’s too bad."