The National Basketball Association would probably concede that when it comes to cultivating a global fan base for hoops, those Wii paddles and advertising go only so far. Instead, the NBA relies on a decidedly low-tech approach with its global grassroots program that it says reaches some 13 million people.
In domestic markets this summer, the NBA is hitting the road for the fourth annual "NBA Nation" truck tour to get consumers riled up about hoops in major markets. The tour, backed by T-Mobile USA, multi-year exclusive auto partner Kia Motors and Sprite, starts in Phoenix on May 1 at the "Cinco De Mayo Phoenix Festival" and then goes on to Denver, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York, Philly, Minneapolis and Dallas.
The NBA says the tour, which brings in more than a million fans, will feature NBA legend Darryl Dawkins. The famed Chocolate Thunder may be remembered as much for his seismic backboard-shattering dunks as for the points he totted up. Dawkins will be at each market to press the flesh and to judge various competitions.
T-Mobile gets branding on the "Halftime Court and Halftime Report" area, the Kia name is on the "Kia Motors Performance Challenge," and Sprite brands a competition called the "Slam Dunk Showdown."
In conjunction with the NBA's Hispanic marketing initiative, éne•bé•a, NBA Nation will visit three major Hispanic festivals in addition to having a branded area at all NBA Nation tour stops.
Most of the activities involve visitors playing variations on basketball: a "T-Mobile Halftime Court" involves families and friends playing an opposing team to see who can sink their shots first; a "Kia Motors Performance Challenge" tests visitors' dribbling, passing and shooting skills against a clock.
The winner of a final competition in Dallas, comprising people who won in each of the eight markets, gets a 2011 Kia Sorento crossover; in the "The Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown" visitors vie for best dunk with Dawkins judging. One winner from each city will receive a $1,000 prize and continue to compete for the chance to be crowned the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown Champion at NBA All-Star 2011 in Los Angeles.
The NBA's director of events and attractions Karen Barberan tells Marketing Daily that the markets chosen for grassroots events like NBA Nation vary from year to year. "Routing the NBA Nation tour year after year is a challenge, as we are constantly balancing efforts to hit well-attended events and festivals in key NBA markets, while satisfying the marketing targets of our tour [brand] partners," she says.
Last year, the NBA Nation tour visited Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Dallas. Both Phoenix and Cleveland -- two strong NBA cities with teams in the post-season -- are new this year, per Barberan.
Barberan says the NBA does a local marketing plan in each market comprising radio, print, TV (in limited markets), and online ads. Teams in the markets also do email blasts to season ticket holders, in-game promotions (when available), team Web sites, and team social networking sites. The league also promotes tours in its digital assets: NBA.com, the NBA Nation Web site, Facebook, and Twitter pages.
Says Barberan: "There is nothing more compelling than being able to give fans the opportunity to touch and feel the NBA brand that would not normally have the opportunity to attend NBA games and see players on a basketball court -- let alone get up close and personal with players, legends and team talent in an interactive setting." She says that last year the NBA held just under 450 international events on some 1800 event days in 30 countries.
The NBA's other worldwide grassroots programs, centered around clinics, contests, skills competitions and player appearances, include the "Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA"; "NBA FIT"; "NBA Jam Van" in the U.S., China and Europe; "NBA Madness" in Asia, Europe and Latin America; and "NBA All-Star Jam Session."