A little more than six years after NBA players began wearing sponsored patches on their jerseys, NBA referees will do the same for the first time.
NBA officials will begin donning shirts with Emirates Airlines patches directly under the NBA logo on the left chest at the All-Star Game on Feb. 18, the league announced Thursday. Officials will continue wearing the Emirates patches when the NBA season resumes a few days later.
Meanwhile, G League referees will begin wearing the patches to start the 2024-25 campaign, and WNBA officials will start in the league’s 2025 season.
The referee patches were just a piece of the endorsement rollout for the Dubai-based Emirates, which in a multiyear deal officially becomes the NBA’s global airline partner. Emirates will also sponsor the NBA in-season tournament, which will be rebranded as the Emirates NBA Cup.
While NBA players started wearing sponsored patches during the 2017-18 campaign — a move that generated millions of dollars annually for each club — other sports such as soccer have long used player jerseys as high-priced advertising real estate. The move comes at a time when NBA viewership is up from last year on the major networks and at a time when the league’s referees are being shown on television far more than in the past.
Television cameras generally zoom in on lead officials as they finalize their rulings over an in-arena microphone following coach’s challenges, where referees review replays of debatable calls — a process that often takes minutes at a time. The number of reviews has increased in recent years, as league stakeholders voted in 2023 to allow clubs a third challenge if a coach requests and is successful with his first two tries.
During the 2019-20 regular season, when the league first implemented the coach’s challenges, referees deliberated on a total of 633 challenges, or 0.59 per regular-season game. Through Monday’s games, or about 60 percent of the way through the 2023-24 regular season, officials had already reviewed 765 coach’s challenges, or 1.03 challenges per game.