Earlier this year, prior to the settlement of the CBA situation between the NFL and its players, there was some anxiety as to whether or not fans would re-embrace the league, consumers would continue to purchase NFL-related paraphernalia and marketers would continue to activate.
Turns out, as poets love to scribe, that absence makes the heart grow fonder. In most cases, NFL attendance, TV ratings and marketing partnerships are at or above previous levels.
The NBA had the same palpitations during its lockout, which was defined by a much more public display of animosity between the league and players. It also took more of a direct toll: The NFL lost just one exhibition game (the Hall of Fame game) and some training camp time. The NBA canceled its preseason and the first seven weeks of the regular season.
In addition, what has followed post-settlement has been a unsettled period of trades and free agency movement leaving observers unable to tell the players without a scorecard.
Turns out, as Yogi Berra used to say, that it was déjà vu all over again, with fans, consumers and marketers awaiting the new -- albeit shortened -- NBA season with open arms.
"We had no hesitation at all in signing a deal with the NBA," said Steve Gaffney, vp-corporate marketing for Sprint, which this season takes over from T-Mobile as the league's official wireless service provider. "We have great confidence in the NBA and in the strength of the property. We left it to the NBA and the players to resolve their issues, and we knew that they would come back strong."
According to Josh Shaw, founder and president of Mission Athletecare, the NBA offers an opportunity to put its products right into the hands of players and, in turn, fans and consumers. Mission is the first "official athletecare" partner of the league and has worked with such NBA stars as Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash to create products including Court Grip (applied to the bottom of basketball shoes to increase traction) and Power Grip (applied to the hands to reduce sweat and improve ball-handling).
"We're very excited to unveil our new partnership with the NBA," said Shaw. "The [deal] was signed at the end of last season, but due to the lockout we [didn't go] public with the announcement until [last week]. That said, this will be the first season where [our products] will be courtside for all the players to use before and during their games. It's an exciting chapter for us!"
Prior to the slate of five 2011-12 season-opening games on Christmas Day, the NBA unveiled partnership renewals that included PepsiCo's Gatorade, Anheuser-Busch and AutoTrader.com; and new deals that included Under Armour in addition to Sprint and Mission Athletecare. Opening day itself on Dec. 25 was expanded from three to five nationally televised games to accommodate league media partners TNT, ABC and ESPN as well as NBA marketers.
"Most of our partners will activate [their strategies] at the start of the season and build from there," said Emilio Collins, svp-global marketing partnerships for the NBA. "They have been very supportive. They have the same attitude as the players and fans: Let's get back to playing the games!"
As Sprint's Gaffney put it, "Over the past few years, the league has built its strength and momentum across the U.S. sports landscape for the league as well as on a global sports landscape for us. This is a league on the move in the right direction."