American Express is back with the NBA after a five-year absence, but this time the financial services company has a big footprint and a focus on offering its cardmembers privileges around NBA games and events.
The company has signed a multiyear partnership that makes it firm Official Card of the NBA, USA Basketball, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), and the NBA Development League (NBA D-League). American Express last had a sponsorship involvement with the NBA from 1995 to 2005.
As the Official Credit Card Partner of the NBA, American Express will give cardmembers entree to regular-season and playoff games, the NBA All-Star, the NBA Draft, and "NBA Games - London 2011," the league's first-ever regular-season games in Europe. Cardmembers will also get into events associated with the WNBA and NBA D-League events.
American Express will also launch a similar raft of loyalty programs as an Official Partner of USA Basketball. Cardmembers will have access to exhibition games leading up to the summer 2012 Olympics. Perks include game tickets, access to USA Basketball receptions and chances to meet members of the USA Basketball team and coaching staff.
Says Courtney Kelso, VP, global sponsorships marketing, American Express: "When we develop partnerships we want to create an opportunity for our cardmembers to have a deeper level of engagement and enhanced access to the things that they love. "This idea is true across all of our various entertainment partnerships including music, fashion and other sports like tennis and golf. Our partnership with the NBA means that cardmembers now have a new perspective of the game through exclusive ticket offers, meet and greet experiences with players and legends, and more.
Emilio Collins, NBA's SVP of global marketing partnerships, says American Express will also expand the roster of individual NBA teams it sponsors and therefore, the breadth of opportunities around team games and events for Amex cardmembers.
The company currently sponsors the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Washington Wizards. The league says cardmembers will get loyalty perks such as tickets, access to NBA-themed hospitality events, behind-the-scenes access and opportunities to meet NBA legends and players.
The NBA, on Amex's behalf, has also developed a customized entertainment series around All-Star Weekend of which American Express will be presenting partner. The NBA All-Star Entertainment Series will comprise performances in Los Angeles over the course of the weekend of the NBA All-Star 2011 game there, and around the events that are part of it.
"We customized it together with them," says Collins. "It's no secret that American Express is heavily involved in music and entertainment, so we thought -- given how high a profile this is -- that it was a natural fit to partner with them on this sort of program."
The American Express deal with the NBA includes media real estate on NBA channels. But while Collins says the league and company are considering how to execute on that via co-branded content, both he and Kelso add that the media buy is not a central element of the partnership.
"The program at this point is really focused on getting cardmembers access to tickets, experiences and behind-the-scenes content," says Kelso. Collins adds that the size of the deal makes Amex a top-tier sponsor. "They really are taking ownership positions across all of our properties. Only a handful of brands are activating to that extent."