The NBA is finally out of the gate, post lockout, with the big tipoff happening on Christmas Day. Sponsors like Gatorade, Cisco, Budweiser, Sprint, Autotrader.com, Kia and Under Armour, are filling the court.
Just this week, sports-gear company Mission Athletecare -- co-founded by NBA stars Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Jennings, and Steve Nash -- signed a multiyear merchandising partnership with the league, making the company the “Official Athletecare” brand of the League. NBA-branded Court Grip and Power Grip products are on sale at Foot Locker and Eastbay.com, and soon at Dick's Sporting Goods, The Sports Authority, Hibbett Sports, Modell’s and at www.MISSIONathletecare.com.
Emilio Collins, SVP of global marketing partnerships for the NBA, tells Marketing Daily that a lot of NBA sponsorship-signing activity this year is happening late and fast partly because of the approaching season tipoff, but also because everything is condensed this year as a result of the labor dispute. "There is certainly a lot of activity now. There are five games on Christmas Day, and are very fortunate to have the majority [of sponsors] around," he says. "So we hadn't lost partnerships as result of the lockout. We have had significant renewals."
And many sponsors are activating outside the U.S., following the NBA's expansion into Asia and the BRIC markets. "Our business is very global and we have grown many partnerships over the last decade," says Collins, noting that PepsiCo's Gatorade brand -- which is adding NBA-partner programs in Brazil, Italy and the United Kingdom to its existing NBA sneaker-print in Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and Puerto Rico -- is focusing on grassroots initiatives developed with the NBA.
"Outside the U.S. where our teams don't play night in and night out, it's critical to develop on-ground activities, such as youth clinics, fan festivals, and exhibition games," he says.
China is still the NBA's most significant market overall outside the U.S., but "we are seeing emerging opportunities in Brazil, India, parts of Europe and of course the Philippines, " he says. The latter is traditionally a basketball-obsessed country, where even national hero and champion boxer Manny Pacquiao can be found as often on the court with his professional team as in the squared circle with trainer Freddie Roach.
Collins says that in the U.S., more marketing partners are creating NBA-specific advertising for broadcast media buys, including Sprint, and -- for the first time ever -- the Budweiser brand. "I think they see tremendous opportunity to tap into our fan base, which is young, multicultural, and tech-savvy," says Collins of Budweiser's new NBA-themed creative. "So we have had lots of conversations with them about engaging with fans year round."
Sponsors also have individual-team relationships, as the framework of NBA league-level partnerships include individual team and broadcast support (although endorsement deals with individual players is separate, and handled through the NBA players' association.)
Collins says that this season the NBA is also rolling out additional strategic partnerships to reach the 40% of NBA fans who are multicultural. ESPN will, for example, feature 19 games broadcast in Spanish on ESPN Deportes this season. Overall, the NBA has programming in 215 countries and territories in 46 languages.
The league is also expanding digital efforts via platforms like the Sprint NBA Mobile app (see above-mentioned link). "We have 150 million fans on Twitter and Facebook, inclusive of league, player and teams, and NBA TV is in 55 million homes in the U.S. and in over 60 countries," notes Collins.