Corporate Ads on MLB Uniforms: A History and FAQ
Advertising is probably coming to MLB uniforms. If so, that would extend a little-known trend dating back more than 20 years.
As you’re probably aware by now, the start of the 2022 Major League Baseball season will be delayed by at least a week, as the owners and the players’ union continue their standoff. If there’s any silver lining to that development, it’s that it forestalls at least for now, the advent of advertising on MLB uniforms, which was widely expected to be part of the new labor deal.
This probably just delays the inevitable. The two sides will eventually find common ground, and most inside observers agree that the common ground will likely include uniform ads. It's not a completely done deal (the continued bad faith and suspicion between the two sides may be our best hope of avoiding uni ads), but it’s still the most probable outcome.
But here’s something many fans don’t realize: Advertising has already appeared on MLB uniforms quite a few times. From 2000 through 2019, there were 16 MLB games that featured third-party ads on jersey sleeves, on batting helmets, or both. All of these were neutral-site games that took place outside of MLB’s USA/Canada base market — some in Japan, some in Mexico, and some in England. But these weren’t exhibitions; they were legit regular season games that counted in the standings and the statistical records. And they all had uni ads.
These 16 games, which took place in eight two-game series over a 20-season span, provide a visual blueprint for what uniform advertising might look like under the new collective bargaining agreement, whenever it’s eventually finalized. Here’s a chronological rundown of those eight series, their uni ads, and some related issues:
1. Mets vs. Cubs: March 29-30, 2000, Tokyo, Japan
The Mets and Cubs opened the 2000 season with a pair of games at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. This two-game series is now known for being the first MLB games ever played outside of North America. But in an arguably more important development, these were also the first MLB games — and the first games from any Big Four pro league, for that matter — to feature ads on the teams’ uniforms. The AIU insurance company bought space on the jersey sleeves, and the am/pm convenience store chain had its logo on the batting helmets.
As I recall it, there was no advance announcement about the uni ads (I remember waking up at 6am to watch the season opener and being stunned by what I saw). But uniforms in general had a much lower media profile at that point — Uni Watch itself was less than a year old at the time — so that may explain why there was no early promotion about the ads.