Might cannabidiol (CBD) brands soon become national TV advertisers during sporting events in the US? The idea just got closer to reality with Wednesday’s news that Major League Baseball will allow teams to sell sponsorships to CBD brands, provided they’re certified by the NSF to not have psychoactive levels of THC.
Those sales won’t be limited to digital activations or in-venue signage either, according to a Sports Business Journal report. Jersey patches — which all teams can sell to brands starting in 2023 — will be in play as well. This will make any brand buying them extremely visible during broadcasts, regardless of whether CBD or cannabis-related sales are legal where the game is broadcast. Six states still say CBD is fully illegal, although among those North Carolina and Nebraska have decriminalized it.
Naturally, if the patches are fully visible to a national TV audience on players, it would make sense that there would be increased interest in larger CBD brands advertising during national games. Even if not on linear just yet, MLB already has various streaming-specific deals with Amazon (Yankees), Peacock (Sundays) and Apple (Friday nights). But really, once you have ads airing during that many national streaming games, what’s the difference if they appear on linear as well?
Cannabis-related brands have tried to appear during major games on national TV before, though without success. Weedmaps submitted a spot heading into this year’s Super Bowl, but it was rejected by the network because NBC did not accept ads “for cannabis or cannabis-related businesses” (as it told Adweek). But that was back in February. A lot can change in a short amount of time, as we’ve seen with industries like sports betting.
For example: A recent report from iSpot shows that estimated national TV ad spend for sportsbooks grew by 281% year-over-year. Sports betting is another industry that is not yet legal in all 50 states, but is legal at the federal level since 2018. While national advertising for it has taken off, iSpot data shows, 37% of TV ad impressions remain local.
Meanwhile, marijuana is not legal at the federal level even as state-by-state legalization grows to varying degrees. So while there’s still a significant speedbump in place when compared to the current state of affairs around sportsbooks and TV, federal legalization would seem to be knocking on the door in a way that resembles where sports betting was within the last decade.
Networks could still say no until that federal “domino” falls, of course. But isn’t the whole point of a jersey patch to advertise to both local and national audiences? Although jersey patches don’t constitute an ad spot, you could argue that the brand placement is even more visible and effective with audiences because it appears in-game as part of the action (when, you know… viewers actually pay attention). Even if the ads aren’t allowed during national games, they’re there. The same goes for any would-be rules around sports betting. Or any previous rules around beer.
The most surprising thing here won’t be that we eventually see CBD ads during national baseball broadcasts, but that MLB was the first of the Big Four US pro sports to go ahead with such sponsorships (as SBJ points out, UFC already allows).
After decades of being known as the stodgiest sport in the US and having the oldest fan base, you’d think MLB would be the last mover here vs. the NFL and NHL, let alone the more progressive NBA. But baseball’s recent embrace of emerging industries like sports betting and cryptocurrency were perhaps indications that baseball has turned a new… leaf, to forgive the pun, and would prioritize growth of sectors like CBD over moral high grounds.