The next time a major-league baseball manager gives the go-ahead to steal, the sign may be "Gatorade, Gatorade, Nike, Microsoft, Pepsi."
Major League Baseball (search) is considering whether to allow advertising on uniforms, selling the rights to patches on shoulders or corporate names on batting helmets.
There is still disagreement over the move, and negotiations would take months, perhaps years, but Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president for business, said it may only be a matter of time.
The sport could bring in $500 million a year from putting pitches on pitchers, according to a recent Advertising Age estimate.
"We're unashamed of the fact that we are a business," Brosnan said. "We're mindful of the fans, but I don't think this is unreasonable."
When it comes to sponsorship rights, he added, baseball lags other sports. Jerseys in cycling and soccer are packed with corporate names, as are race cars and motorcycles.
The National Football League (search) also allow players to display the logos of equipment and clothing manufacturers, provided they are under a certain size.
"We're the last holdouts in the U.S.," Brosnan said. "And already there's a splitting of hairs."
The Yankees' recent trip to Japan, where baseball players often are sponsored, was a preview of how a player might look as a walking advertisement. Ricoh paid an undisclosed amount to sponsor the tour, and players like Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (search) had the office-equipment makers' name on the side of his helmet and on a 3-inch square arm patch.
In the U.S., the Yankees also have sponsorship agreements with companies such as Adidas, which provides equipment to the team. However, no player is required to wear Adidas wear or display its logo, a Yankees spokesman said.
The Yankees oppose league-wide sponsorship, or patches on uniforms, the spokesman said.
The MLB is bound to face resistance to sponsorship, especially from wealthier teams and players. In Japan, Ricoh paid the league a fee, from which the players' union took a cut and distributed it among its members. A similar system here would be another form of profit-sharing, in which more popular clubs like the Yankees subsidizing others with its exposure.
Players who have signed individual endorsement agreements, meanwhile, may bristle at having to wear a conflicting logo, or even at having part of the sponsorship market taken away from them.
It could be a repeat of the '92 Olympics when superstar basketball players draped U.S. flags over their Reebok gear because of their financial allegiance to its main rival, Nike.
Similar arguments were what sunk a 1999 proposal by MLB to include small patches on uniforms. But if owners continue to complain about profits, any objections to the uniform advertising proposal may vanish as quickly as a Red Sox lead.
"We're always looking for new ways to advance our business," Brosnan said.