Kia's partnership with the National Basketball Association is its biggest sponsorship program in the U.S. The automaker, which has renewed its association with the league for the 2010-11 season and beyond, has had a top-tier sponsorship association with the NBA for three years and has been involved as a sponsor in different capacities for many more. This year, Kia is expanding its involvement to sponsorship of the MVP Awards, the 2011 All-Star game at Los Angeles' Staples Center and the league's NBA Cares cause-marketing effort. The Irvine, Calif. automaker's Tim Chaney, director of marketing communications for Kia, talks to Marketing Daily about what's different this year, and how the automaker is marketing its vehicles around the court.
Q: How is this year's sponsorship of the NBA different from last year's?
A: This year, we came off the first three-year period for this, and we consider this renewal an extension and expansion. What is different is that we have added platforms we didn't have before, such as the All-Star game and in particular, title sponsorship and the awards around the MVP, and official auto partner of NBA Cares -- something we have always wanted to get involved in. We also upgraded a couple of existing platforms like Tip-Off Week.
Q: How are you activating against the All-Star game?
A: The All-Star game is in Los Angeles in February, in our backyard -- not that that was a deciding factor, but we are planning to activate in L.A. We will have meetings with the league and will go over a number of ideas about that. One thing I will say is, we are fully committed to this; we don't want to be a sponsor who signs a contract and never activates. We are really just getting started.
Q: What are you doing around sponsorship of individual NBA teams?
A: We have 13 teams; we did have three teams in the off-season that were up for discussion and renewal and we renewed all three: Portland, the L.A. Clippers and Orlando Magic. The Magic moved into a new, fabulous arena and inside, they built for us something called Kia Motors Terrace, an upper-level hospitality and display area. We hoisted the Optima up there, and it's on display and visible from the court. It was quite interesting. We had to get the car up there with a crane.
Q: Is team sponsorship a national program?
A: No, we view these 13 teams not just as NBA sponsorships but also as platforms for local market activation. Local dealer groups are very engaged and enthusiastic about team relationships, so we tend to somewhat decentralize the team activities and have regional offices and dealer groups get involved, and our role is to support them.
Q: Beyond the new platforms, how is Kia leveraging its status with the NBA for advertising in the regular season?
A: We handle the ad buy separately with ESPN and TNT, and we will have a significant presence on both networks this year. We have had a long-time NBA programming sponsorship relationship with ESPN going back seven years, where we have a Wednesday and Friday night pre-game show called the Kia and NBA Shoot Around. This year it's called the Kia and NBA Countdown. And we will also have a presence on TNT; they cover NBA All-Star Weekend.
Q: What are you doing to support Optima around the NBA relationship?
A: Optima will be the hero model or focus model both in our local team sponsorships and nationally. Some of this involves in-arena display opportunities, promotions and courtside signage. On the league front, starting next week we will introduce broadcast and print ads for Optima as well as courtside signage. We will do something to integrate Optima with the All-Star Performance awards.
Q: This is Kia's biggest sponsorship program. What has it done for you?
A: In this country it is the biggest -- yes, but globally, the parent company has a large relationship with the FIFA World Cup. We have proprietary data that shows there is a very strong indicator among NBA fans for rising Kia awareness, positive opinion and purchase consideration, which are paramount for us, and we feel it has helped elevate the brand image in people's eyes.
In the beginning of our relationship with the NBA a few years ago, people were surprised to see Kia, but now we do not see that. We have a strong presence; people see us as a regular part of the game. It has boosted brand image, purchase consideration, and positive opinion of the brand and elevated the Kia brand into the mainstream. It's a great way for us to increase share of voice in a sport that is on the upswing.
Q: The NBA has put a lot of effort in the past couple of years into growing its international footprint and fan base. Is Kia corporate considering taking a sponsorship role beyond U.S. borders?
A: Well, the NBA is very popular in China, Europe, and Korea, in more and more markets. I think, of all the professional leagues, they have the biggest fan base globally and the most coherent strategy. There have been discussions but nothing imminent. I would never say never, though, because Kia globally is very in engaged in sports. We sponsor the Australia Open tennis tournament, FIFA, women's golf; we got involved in sponsoring Michelle Wie in the past year.