Go to just about any sports game, in any league, in any country and you’ll almost certainly find a sea of fans all adorned in the same shirt. These replica jerseys create a sense of community among supporters, helping them to come together to cheer on their team in unison. In most sports, jerseys come emblazoned with logos and slogans of sponsors who spend sizeable sums to be shown to the supporters and TV viewers.
In many parts of the world, these logos will quite often be for iGaming brands who use sports partnerships to improve awareness of their sportsbooks and online casinos. This is just one part of a wider strategy, so when fans are looking online for free bets and other promotions to use on the wagers they place, they’ll be more likely to use the app that sponsor’s their team.
It wasn’t always this way though. Over the last few decades, the types of sponsors we’ve seen on sports jerseys have changed many times over. And before that, few sports even allowed any forms of promotion to be emblazoned on their kits and uniforms.
But in many respects, team jerseys and sponsorships have helped to shape modern sports.
Going (Almost) Full Circle - The Evolution of Sportswear
Some of the earliest records of sportspeople can be found in Ancient Greece; in fact, it was here that the Olympic Games were invented. From this era, historians have uncovered a mountain of evidence that demonstrates that athletes competed completely naked.
Everything from running to more dangerous disciplines like discus throwing, horse racing, and even combat sports was done in the nude. This practice is actually how we ended up with the words “gymnastics” and “gymnasium” as they stem from the Greek word “gymnos” which translates to “naked” or “lightly clad”.
The reason for unclothed running and bare boxing was that Greek athletes discovered they could run faster and move more freely when unshackled from the constraints of their clothes. Nudity was, therefore, done in the pursuit of a competitive advantage.
As the centuries progressed, people became less keen about watching gymnos gymnastics, so athletes began to don shorts and T-shirts. However, they were often made of natural fibres like cotton, a fabric that is known for absorbing water and being uncomfortable in hot and humid conditions.
That’s why modern athletic attire is made from synthetic fibres with wicking properties that draw moisture from the body and are much lighter, often replicating the qualities of competing naked. Without these fabrics, athletes wouldn’t be able to compete at the same levels that they can do today.
Sponsors, Their Evolution, and Their Influence on Modern Sport
Early examples of sports sponsorship in the way that we would recognise it today began in the 1950s when a Uruguayan soccer club added logos to their jerseys, with some European clubs copying in limited degrees.
Motorsport had historically been more open to the concept, mostly because it was much more expensive than most ball sports, resulting in drivers and their cars being draped in logos since the 1960s.
The majority of leagues banned sponsorship way up until the 1970s, with a German drinks brand getting its logo printed onto the jerseys of the Bundesliga side, Eintracht Braunschweig. In England, the first attempt at shirt sponsorship happened in 1976 when Kettering Town had “KETTERING TYRES” added to its kits. A battle between the team and the sport’s officials ensued, resulting in Kettering being forced to remove the writing for the rest of the season. The ban was short-lived though, being reversed just a year later.
The need for sponsors is evident in modern sport. Competing at any level is expensive, especially so in major leagues. Therefore, sponsors are valuable to many teams as they wouldn’t be able to compete without them.
Most NBA teams have struck deals worth between $5 million and $20 million for a tiny logo on their player jerseys, while Manchester City receives £45 million ($61 million) for the privilege. In exchange, brands receive huge amounts of exposure on TV, on social media, and in printed media.
On top of that though, mass production techniques that we first saw in the late 1970s and 1980s have made it possible for millions of replica shirts to be produced and sold to fans. This has created the modern phenomenon of tens of thousands of walking billboards lining almost every stadium in the world today.