The collective bargaining agreement between the U.S. men’s national soccer team and its players’ union is silent on the issue of advertisement approvals. The players union recently asked the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm an arbitral finding that the union has the power to reject promotional materials sought by U.S. Soccer Federation sponsors. The union said the federation and union have operated under such an understanding for years, and that the arbitral award rightly filled a gap in the collective bargaining agreement between the two sides. The federation, on the other hand, asserts that it is not obligated to seek the union’s approval for ads. At most, said the federation, approval is needed only for video spots, and that arbitrator overstepped his bounds in obligating a preapproval process for print ads. Of course, the easiest solution would have been to fill the gap in the union contract through collective bargaining instead of having to go through an arbitration process and an appeal.
The National Basketball Association is likely paying close attention to the outcome of this case as it tests the waters for placing advertisements on players’ uniforms. The NBA first put a logo on players’ jerseys during the All-Star game with expectation to rolling out similar advertising opportunities in the future. My guess is that the NBA will address this issue during labor negotiations before basketball players become walking billboards.