SBJ/February 27 - March 5, 2006/This Weeks News

Sponsors back USA Basketball

The overhauled USA Basketball program has reached agreement with McDonald’s, Nike, State Farm Insurance and Gatorade on three-year marketing deals leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games, bringing the property $16 million in sponsorship revenue, sources said.

LeBron James, part of the bronze-medal team
in 2004, is interested in returning.
The deals are an extension of USA Basketball’s effort to improve the performance and perception of its men’s Olympic basketball program. Instead of sponsors getting what amounted to a 17-day advertising buy during the Olympics, companies now are being offered global activation opportunities that coincide with the three-year commitments USA Basketball is seeking from players for the team.

Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball’s senior men’s national team, said that more partners will be added but he did not specify how many total deals are being pursued.

“We have an opportunity to not just put together a successful team but to look at it as a platform on an international stage regarding the perception of us as Americans and athletes,” Colangelo said. “The vision was to turn around the program entirely, and sponsors had to buy into the plan.”

Specific terms of the deals were not disclosed, but each of the four sponsors paid about $4 million, according to an industry source. Elements of the sponsorships are still being finalized, but it’s expected that activation will begin around the men’s team’s Las Vegas-based training camp in July, leading up to the 2006 world championships in Japan in August.

In addition, before heading to Japan, plans call for the team to play two exhibition games in China and two in Korea. The dates and cities for those games are still being negotiated, Colangelo said, and a source said ESPN is negotiating for the television rights to the games.

Colangelo added that USA Basketball also is working to have the team practice at U.S. military bases worldwide as part of its developing plans.

Ed Gold, director of media and sponsorships for State Farm Insurance, said the company is “in the process of crossing the ‘Ts’ on a contract with USA Basketball.” He added that the deal would also provide rights to the U.S. Olympic women’s team.

State Farm was a sponsor of the U.S women’s team in 1996.

“We look forward to partnering with the other best-in-class sponsors,” he said.

Representatives of the three other sponsoring companies were unavailable for comment at press time.

The NBA is the chief marketing arm of USA Basketball, and Gatorade and Nike are current NBA league partners. McDonald’s was a sponsor of last year NBA’s China Games. State Farm has never partnered with the NBA on a league level.

“For a partner proposition standpoint, this is the first time we are creating the concept of a true national team, and that allows us to create programs that can build equity over time,” said Mark Tatum, NBA senior vice president of marketing partnerships who is also responsible for selling marketing deals for USA Basketball. “This is not just a couple of weeks around the Olympics. It’s building an identity around the team.”

Reebok, Gatorade, Spalding and Allstate Insurance were sponsors of the 2004 men’s Olympic team. An industry source said that the value of those deals was far less than the $4 million being paid by each of the new partners.

The first U.S. Olympic Dream Team, featuring NBA players for the 1992 Barcelona Games — most notably, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan — generated the most sponsorship dollars USA Basketball has brought in for one Olympic team, though industry sources would not disclose the amount.

The four newly targeted sponsors are expected to activate more heavily than the 2004 partners, which focused on that year’s Olympic performance. That 2004 U.S. men’s team captured a bronze medal, but the players’ seeming indifference to participation combined with a third-place result for a team full of NBA players was heavily criticized, prompting the shift in USA Basketball’s strategy for its Olympic team.

Colangelo was appointed last April to what was a newly created position to direct the new approach, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski last October was named coach for the international team. The 2004 team saw top NBA players declining to participate in the Games, but under Colangelo’s revamped approach, players including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have expressed interest in participating in the three-year program leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

The list of invitees for the July camp is expected to be announced in early March.

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