When the Minnesota Timberwolves take the court to start the 2017-18 NBA season, they’ll do so wearing new jerseys bearing a brand new uniform patch.
The Timberwolves on Tuesday became the seventh team to announce a sponsorship for the patches that will be coming to NBA jerseys next season, agreeing to terms on a three-year partnership” that will make Fitbit the “official wearable,” “official sleep tracker,” and jersey patch sponsor of the Wolves, the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and the D-League’s — pardon me: the G-League’s — Iowa Wolves.
From the Timberwolves’ announcement:
Fitbit will provide access to devices to all three teams, including business and basketball staffs, offering personalized insights that can be used to gain a competitive advantage and improve performance throughout the organization. Fitbit’s logo will appear on Timberwolves player uniforms beginning with the 2017-18 season as the team’s jersey patch partner, as well as on the Iowa Wolves jerseys.
We’ll have to wait to see what the patch looks like, though. It won’t be unveiled later this summer, when the Wolves show off the new uniforms they’ll be wearing beginning with their two October exhibition games against the Golden State Warriors in China as part of the 2017 NBA Global Games.
It’s not yet clear how much Fitbit’s paying for the privilege. Reports on deals the other six teams have locked up prior to Tuesday — the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers — have ranged between $5 million and $10 million per year in jersey revenues.
According to Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press, the Timberwolves “plan to use Fitbit’s technology throughout the organization, including logging the new concession offerings at Target Center into the Fitbit food section to help fans make healthier choices at the games.” But while the organization will be allowed to use the tracking technology with their newly purchased Iowa-based development-league team to learn more about sleep, recovery, nutrition and performance indicators that might help inform practices employed with the big-league club, they’re limited in the extent to which they can use the wearable technology in Minnesota.
As the tracking of athletes’ biometric data has become a booming business in recent years, it has also become a major labor issue, with the prospect of information gleaned from such monitoring raising concerns over players’ right to privacy, and the prospect that their private medical information could, for example, be unfairly used against them by team ownership and management in negotiations. The new collective bargaining agreement between NBA teams and the league’s players union includes a section on wearable technology that formed a “joint advisory committee (the ‘Wearables Committee’) to review and approve wearable devices for use by players.”
As detailed by ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh back in March, the new section “outlines the proper protocol for teams that want to put wearable devices on players,” and “states that teams can ask players to wear any of six approved devices on the court.” The wearables can only be used on the practice court rather than in games, and the data collected from such devices “may not be considered, used, discussed or referenced for any other purpose such as in negotiations regarding a future Player Contract or other Player Contract transaction (e.g., a trade or waiver) involving the player,” with teams that violate the provision facing a fine of up to $250,000. The Fitbit is not one of the six approved devices.
Even so, Fitbit was eager to get into the NBA marketing game, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell:
Fitbit, which is the leader in the wearable business with about 20 percent of the market, was very interested in making a patch deal, with sources saying the company talked to six teams.
“We were looking for a partner that could work with us on what we do — measuring biometrics, performance, activity and sleep,” said Tim Rosa, Fitbit’s chief marketing officer. “The Timberwolves were our best fit.”
More from Krawczynski of the AP:
“[The Timberwolves] weren’t just looking at this as a jersey sponsorship,” Fitbit chief marketing officer Tim Rosa said. “They were looking at it as an opportunity to tell a bigger story around innovation and health and wellness.” […]
“The ability to work with a team and work on specific things around sleep or activities in the offseason, it’s pretty exciting,” Rosa said. “It’s a mutual benefit that a team has access to all of this plyometric data. There’s a lot of room for improvement and understanding your body and how to enhance performance.”
When you haven’t gone .500 for 11 years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, every little bit of performance-enhancing helps — especially when you get an extra few million bucks a year to bring it all on-board.
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