SBJ/April 18 - 24, 2005/Marketingsponsorship

USA Today, 7-Eleven flip over NBA coins

The first national newspaper promotion using collectible sports medallions is the centerpiece of a bevy of marketing programs tied to the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday.

USA Today and the league are supporting with media valued at $2.5 million.
USA Today and its largest single retailer, 7-Eleven, are teaming for a “Hardwood Heroes” promotion that will offer 30 different collectible medallions of NBA stars at more than 5,000 locations nationwide from April 25 through June 3. Similar to other programs designed as circulation boosters, USA Today will offer a free collectors album for the medallions to those buying at retail this Friday, and then sell them through 7-Eleven and other retailers such as ShopRite, FasTrack Markets and Gas N’ Shop for $2.99 plus a coupon from that day’s paper. In New York City, the only distribution for the promotion is at the NBA Store.

USA Today and the NBA are supporting with media valued at $2.5 million, including 500 dedicated spots on NBA TV, and extensive point-of-sale advertising. The players included in the marketing are a cross-section of the league’s top performers, including LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant.

Activa Consumer Promotions of Houston has produced 3 million medallions for the program, up from the 2.7 million it produced for a similar Yankees promotion in New York City, but that was hardly a typical regional newspaper program.

Similar programs from Activa have been successful in cities across America and have been growing in popularity recently as a very mature newspaper market found it can boost circulation by 10 percent or more. Of course, those results were based on regional newspapers — this is the first medallion program for a national newspaper in the United States.

“It’s a real test for this promotional model,” said Fred Ostern of Ostern Sports Marketing, Simsbury, Conn., who designs fast-food premium programs. “If it performs well nationally, you’ll see everyone do it.”

Activa may do as many as seven NFL programs later this year. Aside from boosting sales, the promos have been successful because they allow newspapers to leverage the team sponsorships they rarely activate. The programs also make newspapers less dependent on having winning home teams to sell more papers, and they allow publishers to share in the sales of licensed products to the fans who are also heavy consumers of sports sections.

This program is just part of the sponsor activation around the playoffs. Toyota, one of the newest NBA corporate partners, will experiment with branded content on NBA TV. A “Drive To The Finals” series begins in May and will run through the playoffs. In the series, various NBA legends, including Bill Walton, Julius Erving and Bill Russell, will tour playoff cities giving their views on the playoffs, with transportation via Toyota and some scenes shot inside the vehicles.

Toyota also is expected to break three NBA-themed ads from Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, during the postseason that use Phil Jackson and support the Corolla, Tundra and Tacoma.

American Express, which uses its sports sponsorships almost exclusively as a platform for TV ads, will air a trio of new NBA-themed spots starting on May 1 via ad agency Ogilvy & Mather using prominent players.

McDonald’s is running a “Take A Shot” sweepstakes offering a trip to this year’s NBA Finals from May 3-23. Other activity from McDonald’s includes two online sweepstakes: the 365 Access, which offers NBA Finals trips as prizes, and the “Pick and Roll” brackets contest.

As with the other promotions, McDonald’s will use the NBA’s “Destination Finals” theme and showcase the NBA’s championship hardware in marketing.

“We’re building the [Larry O’Brien] trophy as an icon a little more every year by integrating it in more of our playoff marketing,” said NBA vice president of marketing partnerships Mark Tatum.

Among other partners, Anheuser-Busch is reprising a “pop-a-shot” competition in NBA playoff markets, in which winners receive a Finals trip. Coca-Cola’s Sprite brand will activate online with spokescharacter Miles Thirst offering his perspective on the postseason. Starting in May, LamisilAT will have four consecutive features in Sports Illustrated highlighting teams that have “stepped up” in the playoffs, tying in to its Step Up features on nba.com.

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