The Indiana Pacers have signed a sponsorship deal with Fishers-based tech startup Spokenote that will put a QR code on the team’s jerseys—a first among major sports franchises.
At Wednesday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Pacers will debut their new Spokenote patches, which are affixed to the left shoulder of each jersey and feature the company’s logo below a blocky black-and-white QR code. No other pro basketball, baseball, football or hockey team has ever had a QR code on its jersey until now, the Pacers said in announcing the deal on Wednesday.
“It’ll be a first in sports that allows us to engage with fans on a whole new level and gives us sort of an exciting path to travel,” said Todd Taylor, chief commercial officer at Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
Spokenote, launched in mid-2022 by serial entrepreneur John Wechsler, offers users a way to record and share personalized video messages using QR codes.
The sponsorship deal also includes baseline decals: 21-foot by 3-foot decals at each end of the basketball court that will display Spokenote’s logo.
Taylor declined to reveal financial details of the sponsorship, saying that the Pacers as a rule do not disclose terms of their business deals.
Wechsler said the sponsorship deal should help Spokenote gain much greater visibility and accelerate its push into retail sales.
“I think it’s a complete game-changer for us, and how we act in 2024 and beyond,” he said. “I think it pushes us into a new caliber of company.”
In a separate but related deal announced Wednesday, Pacers majority owner Herb Simon and Steven Rales, who owns a minority stake in the team, have made personal investments into Spokenote.
The Simon and Rales investments will close out a $4 million Series A investment round for which Spokenote has been raising money since December 2022, Wechsler said.
Spokenote has six employees and a handful of contract workers. Its sales focus to date has been on business-to-business customers, and it does sell its products online, but one of the company’s big goals this year is to expand into brick-and-mortar retail stores, Wechsler said.
“Between [the baseline decals] and the patch, that is a very extensive branding opportunity for us, and that’s going to help us push into retail,” he said.
Wechsler also said Spokenote has some other deals in the works, with additional details to come: “We’re in the final stages of some very significant partnerships that will begin to launch us into the kind of everyday vernacular, kind of mainstream consumer product world.”
For its part, the Pacers plan to use Spokenote’s technology as a gateway for connecting with fans.
The Pacers signed their first patch sponsorship, with Motorola, in 2018. When that sponsorship deal was nearing an end, the team started thinking about doing things differently with its next patch sponsorship, Taylor said. Per NBA rules, each team can have only one patch sponsor at any given time.
Taylor said the Pacers were looking for just the right sponsor—a company that could help the team with its sports marketing efforts, maybe an emerging tech company that the Pacers could help become nationally known.
Taylor and Wechsler first met through a mutual friend about two years ago to toss around ideas of how the Pacers might use Wechsler’s QR code idea to promote the team. They didn’t make a deal at that time, Taylor said, partly because Taylor struggled to understand exactly how the team might use the codes. But Wechsler left some sample QR codes for Taylor to try, and over time he discovered the codes’ versatility. Later, when the Pacers were looking for a new patch sponsor, they reconnected with Wechsler.
Typically, Spokenote offers unique QR codes, each of which users can scan with their mobile phones to create personalized video messages that they can then share with others via stickers or cards. The recipients can access the videos by scanning the QR codes printed on those stickers or cards.
To simplify things, Spokenote came up with a different arrangement for the Pacers. The players will all wear patches with the same QR code on it. That single code will allow the team to post a changing series of videos for fans—perhaps behind-the-scenes videos, seasonal messages or videos marking a particular milestone.
Taylor said fans will be able to scan the code in multiple ways, including from a Pacers player’s jersey during a game, from game photos, or, soon, from the retail version of the jersey that fans can purchase. Once they scan the code, fans will gain access to video messages from the Pacers—with fresh content added regularly.
And Spokenote and the Pacers are already thinking of other ways they might use Spokenote’s QR codes—perhaps selling Pacers-branded packages of Spokenote stickers in the team’s fan shop, or creating souvenir buttons with QR codes so that fans can create a keepsake video of a child’s first Pacers game.