Just when you thought companies couldn’t possibly shove more advertisements into your eye sockets, technology proved it was possible. Digital (or virtual) ads are promos inserted into media post-production or in real time. They first emerged in video games, then started creeping into TV shows on streaming platforms. And during the pandemic, digital ads began making their way onto the basketball court in NBA broadcasts.
On top of ensuring that nowhere in sports is safe from commercialization, the virtual ads have had at least one other, unintended side effect: They killed a well-loved team uniform. In a green screen-style snafu, certain jerseys were too close in color to the polished wooden floors of NBA arenas. Thus, digital ads ended up distorted by players wearing the offending outfits, as first reported by Paul Lukas, the uniform-obsessed aesthetics aficionado who writes the popular UniWatch newsletter.
Specifically, the proliferation of digital ads forced the Milwaukee Bucks’ to give up their cream-colored jerseys. The uniforms were an alternate used during some games from 2017-2020. The colorway was inspired by the team’s home city nickname (in turn, inspired by a local building material). Fans of the Wisconsin franchise loved the look, according to Lukas who spoke with the Bucks’ chief marketing officer, Dustin Godsey. “It was incredibly well received,” Godsey told Lukas. “It helped us kind of build that Cream City brand.”
But there was a problem. The teams’ sponsors started noticing that players wearing the jerseys were getting in the way of their ads—and reported a “pixelation effect,” said Godsey. As a result, the Milwaukee uniforms (and all cream uniforms) were banned NBA-wide. The move also impacts the Philadelphia 76ers, who’ve had a “parchment” colored uniform variant in rotation for the past three seasons, according to Lukas.
It may seem a small thing, but the off-white prohibition is a clear signal of the growing influence that advertisers are having in the sports league and beyond—and the technology enabling that influence. Ad tech is big business, arguably the biggest business—maybe even the only business.
Advertising is near-inescapable, and it’s worth remembering that all those paid promotions have an impact on the content you see, the things that you buy, the way that you think and behave, and the colors your favorite sports teams may or may not be allowed to wear. Even the world’s richest man can’t escape the need to pander to ad revenue, although he’s currently doing a spectacularly bad job.