The MLB stated in a conference call on June 21 that CBD is now an “approved category” which means that teams are now allowed to sell CBD sponsorships as long as the brand has received an NSF certification (a verification that a product has no THC).
According to Sports Business Journal, MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden explained the reason for the change. “We’ve been watching this category for a while and waiting for it to mature to the point where we can get comfortable with it,” said Garden. “We told the clubs if you want to do a deal in the CBD category, it will require two things: One is NSF certification—and none of them are there yet, although around three to five [brands] are in process. The other is to get approval from the commissioner’s office…Our fans are very much the kind of customers they are looking for, and we like being first. It’s a good opportunity for us and the clubs. The last few companies that came to see us about this, the process of NSF certification was embraced. That gave us a comfort level to be able to move forward.”
Recently, analysts shared that CBD could generate up to $4.9 billion across the globe in 2022, with a projection of reaching $47 billion by 2028.
The MLB “patch program,” which began in March 2022, allows each team to feature a brand and logo on their team uniforms for on-field players. The San Diego Padres was the first team to embrace this new sponsorship by partnering with Motorola. With this in mind, Garden added that a CBD brand could possibly be featured in a patch deal too. “We are open-minded to doing a patch deal here, depending on the brand and what that brand represents,” Garden said. “It has to have a brand that represents sports.”
It’s a landmark milestone for CBD in the MLB, but the conversation spans most other sports organizations as well.
NBA athlete Kevin Garnett said in an interview with Sports Business Journal last week following his attendance of the Brand Innovation Summit that was held in Chicago, Illinois on June 13-15, “I think with the emergence and where CBD is going, not only are you going to see a deal [in the NBA], you are going to start see the sponsorships on the jerseys.” Garnett continued, “You are going to start to see a more active role of CBD products actually signing players, both women and men. And then I think you’re going to see the education come out a little more because we’re all looking for it now. I think CBD is here, it’s a disruptor, it has disrupted pharma, as it should, and it’s a great, different solution. If people are not using it, I recommend people to go out and have your own testimonials and your own experiences with it. It really does work.”
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Vice President of Global Partnerships Grant Norris-Jones also spoke at the event on the topic CBD and its benefits for athletes. “It’s a better alternative to addictive products, like pain killers, opioids, and sleeping aids,” said Norris-Jones. “The big problem has been the different standards and practices by our various broadcast partners when it comes to CBDs…In the U.K., [UFC sponsor] Love Hemp is sold in the equivalent of Walgreens and CVS. Here, their activations have to be outside of ESPN currently. So it’s been a lot of digital, social and a brand ambassador program with our athletes.”
The MLB first made waves towards allowing cannabis consumption for athletes over two years ago. Following the events of baseball player Tyler Skaggs who died of an opioid overdose, the organization announced in December 2019 that it would be removing cannabis from its list of “abused drugs” (but would still test for substances such as fentanyl and cocaine).
However, the MLB still said in March 2020 that players may receive punishments for appearing under the influence of cannabis at any practices or games.
The NBA was next to make history when it announced in October 2021 that it would not be testing its athletes for cannabis during the 75th season, which began in October 2021 and ended in May 2022.