SBJ/June 18 - 24, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

NBA playoffs invite a shoot-around of pointed questions, free advice

So many thoughts, so little space. Many idle hours spent watching the NBA playoffs have put these thoughts in my mind.

 What happened to NBA sponsor-driven promotions? The NBA is a league that, to a great extent, owes its popularity to promotional campaigns run by its sponsors. During the broadcasts on NBC, however, there's not much visibility for NBA sponsors. Nestlé does run a smart campaign using Shaquille O'Neal that features footage from past games, but that's about it. Kobe Bryant is used (out of uniform) in spots for Adidas and McDonald's that do little to enhance the image of the player or the league. Where are such league sponsors as IBM, Schick and American Express during the broadcasts?

  What would happen if the teleprompter used by Ahmad Rashad stopped working? I get the feeling the nation would see an unprecedented display of panic.

  NBC commentator P.J. Carlesimo might have keen observations on the game, but he comes off as grating and annoying. Perhaps that's why viewers were treated to concerts by U2 and Destiny's Child instead of 10 minutes of observations by the former coach.

  While his efforts in the NBA Finals may propel Allen Iverson into mainstream endorsement deals, that's not a bet most advertisers will take. The playoff platform has helped Iverson become more visible, and his performance has been gutsy and inspiring. His appeal, though, still won't go mainstream. He's perfect for selling shoes for Reebok, but I don't see him pitching Campbell's Chunky Soup any time in the near future. It's still a slow market for athlete endorsers, and only those with unassailable reputations will be able to cross over out of basketball-endemic products.

  The NBA does a masterful job of filling the broadcast with messages to support its programs. Spots for its Read to Achieve campaign are well done. Its short commercials that show the evolution of the game from past greats like Julius Erving to current stars like Bryant send a clear reminder: The top players now will be the legends of the future, so you better watch them while they're here.

  No start-up sports league has ever had a better marketing partnership than the WNBA. The league is generously promoted by the NBA through in-game spots and courtside signage. The commercials for the league, however, come off as disingenuous. The supposed bus tour by WNBA players is filmed to look like an unstaged and spontaneous event, but the overly enthusiastic reception by the fans mocks the credibility of the ads. The league should use this platform to introduce viewers to its likable group of players.

  Note to NBA teams: Don't think a restaging of the NBC/NBA halftime "Weakest Link" program will be a fresh idea for your halftime entertainment next season. It was a forced idea that looked uncomfortable for all the participants.

Alan Friedman (alanf100@excite.com) is founder of Team Marketing Report.

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