Official uniform suppliers have been with us in the Big Three sports leagues throughout the entire era of the MEARS A5 grade. Starting with Sand-Knit and the NBA in 1986-87, continuing with Rawlings and MLB in 1987, and stretching into the NFL and multiple suppliers in the 1990s, official uniform suppliers, in addition to the business gleaned from a major pro sports league, have also benefited from free advertising and exposure due to the ability as the “chosen ones” to add manufacturer logos to jersey sleeves and/or torsos.
Ironically, the first supplier/league arrangement is also the least obvious one. NBA jerseys do not carry logos for Sand-Knit, Reebok, Champion, or any other official suppliers, perhaps due to the limited fabric on a basketball uniform. For several years, though, warm-up outfits and shooting shirts have carried Nike swooshes, Reebok insignias, and other applicable emblems. Likewise, Team USA unies for the Olympics and other international tournaments also bear supplier
In baseball, the logo usage gets more complicated. In the minor leagues, no exclusive or semi-exclusive uniform supplies exist, so any company that produces minor league jerseys, regardless of their concurrent status with MLB, can use a sleeve or neck logo.
In the majors, logos are limited to contracted suppliers (Rawlings 1987-91 and 2000-02, Russell 1992-2004 and Majestic 2000-current). On BP jerseys, Majestic is allowed to use logos from 1990-current, while Rawlings and Russell are also given the OK based on their game uniform deals, as shown earlier in this paragraph.
As many collectors are aware, however, several players and teams in the 1987-99 era ordered and wore uniforms from sources other than MLB’s official supplier. It’s easy enough to tell when a player/team wears one of these jerseys…the sleeve or neck will not carry a manufacturer logo, a perk thee unofficial suppliers cannot use. This is the case with all Wilson jerseys from this time frame, mid-1990’s Astros Victory attire, Astros, Nolan Ryan and Padres home Goodman duds, and 1992-99 Rawlings productions (such as the Cardinals ,and 1992-94 Dodgers unies).
A Rawlings logo on a 1992-99 jersey, no matter how closely it resembles a major league item, can be nothing other than a minor league item. A mid-sized auction house and their authenticator (neither associated with MEARS) does not seem to realize that, as they have “authenticated” and sold numerous Orioles minor league jerseys from this 1992-99 span with Rawlings sleeve logos as major league BP jerseys…erroneous, of course. If the Cardinals, Dodgers and other teams (Pirates, for example) that used Rawlings in this eight-year span couldn’t use a
Rawlings logo (due to Russell having the contract), then why would the Orioles be allowed to do so?
Other bits and pieces on MLB logo usage:
Location: In MLB, right sleeve tip is the near-exclusive location on 1987-99 sleeved jerseys. In 2000, either sleeve can be logo-adorned, and 2001 began a near-exclusive switch to the left sleeve.
Vest jerseys: Pre-2000: back of neck (current location of MLB logo); 2001-04: Undershirt sleeve, not found on jersey itself; 2005-current Majestic: above left armhole.
Minor League: Most frequently the opposite of MLB locations (the misdescribed 1992-99 Orioles tops mentioned earlier, for example, bear the Rawlings insignia on the left sleeve).
Until 2002, the NFL used multiple suppliers, and then switched exclusively to Reebok in ’02. Official NFL suppliers prior to that included Wilson (1990-97), Apex (1992-95), Champion (1990-97), Reebok (1996-98), Nike (1995-2000), Adidas (1999-2001), Russell (1990-97), Logo Athletic (1998), Puma (1999-2000), and, in a few rare examples, MacGregor Sand-Knit (1990 only). Each company’s logo was and is pretty consistent in design with one exception. Wilson employed a fancy W/S shield logo for 1995 jerseys.
Regarding college football, the lack of limitations on companies that can use logos on their jerseys is similar to minor league baseball, with the main difference between NCAA and NFL jerseys logos being location (chest in NCAA, sleeve in NFL).
Also of note in the NFL: while 1990 is the general introduction of sleeve supplier logos, a few 1980s examples of NFL and USFL gridiron tops with Champion logos are known to exist.