SBJ/February 27-March 5, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

For the high-flying NBA, it’s all good

Anthony Davis on the set with the NBA on TNT team.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES (2)
Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the crowd.
With a new labor deal covering the next seven seasons, a lucrative broadcast agreement set through the 2024-25 schedule, and the NBA’s global and social reach the envy of every other domestic sports league, “the state of the league may be as good as it has ever been,” as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver asserted in his annual presser before All-Star Saturday Night festivities.

NBA business partners in New Orleans for the event were equally sanguine.

“We have a lot of respect for the NBA’s leadership,” said Deb Curtis, vice president of global experiential marketing and partnerships at longtime league sponsor American Express. “They clearly know who they are; they’re global and multigenerational, and they have brought in the next generation of fans in a way that’s probably incomparable.”

American Express activated at All-Star through a Shaquille O’Neal event for Boys & Girls Club members; a 15 percent discount for cardholders at Fanatics All-Star Game retail; and a presence at the “NBA on TNT Road Show.”

On the ticketing side, the NBA continues its impressive run. The league expects to nearly match last year’s record-setting average attendance and record full-season ticket sales, according to Amy Brooks, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations.

“We are getting to the stage where it’s not always about selling a lot more fulls. It’s about managing inventory the right way,” Brooks said.

Not that there aren’t a few things that aggravate league officials, such as declining ratings of NBA programming on regional sports networks as the league, like the NFL, dealt with the fallout from the most polarizing presidential race in memory. The poor on-court performance by the two teams in New York, and the desultory season by the Chicago Bulls, must be unsettling. Then there are the Los Angeles Lakers, the big-market NBA franchise that finds itself at a critical crossroads (see related story).

Russell Westbrook’s sneakers in the West locker room
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The best news for the league’s commercial affiliates is that while other sports properties would use this embarrassment of riches as an excuse for expansion, the NBA, even flush with cash, is not.

“We’re very focused on making sure that our existing 30 teams are profitable and performing at the highest levels,” Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said. “Once that happens and we’re all happy, we might start thinking about expanding the pie. There’s no short-term incentive to generate expansion fees.”

By the same rationale, if there was ever a good time for league marketers to have no fewer than seven corporate sponsors up for renewal, it’s now. The list of re-ups includes some of the league’s largest corporate patrons: American Express, Autotrader.com (a sponsor since 2006), Kia, Kaiser Permanente, SAP, Taco Bell and Adidas (a league sponsor/licensee since 2002).

With Nike replacing Adidas next season as the NBA’s uniform supplier, Adidas would need a new agreement with the league to show its endorsers, like Houston Rockets star James Harden, in NBA uniforms. However, NBA uniforms will have a Nike swoosh on them for the first time next season, so how enthusiastic Adidas will be in pursing such a deal remains to be seen.

With the prevailing tailwind, renewing the key sponsorships should not be much of a chore.

“These partnerships evolve over time as a brand’s needs change,” Tatum said, when asked about the septet of renewals. “We take nothing for granted.”

Meanwhile, with Emilio Collins, executive vice president of global partnerships, leaving the NBA’s sales side for Excel Sports Management in April, some sort of new order may be in the works. More than one insider cautioned, however, that the status quo may remain, albeit with some adjusted titles.

NBA All-Star Weekend TV Ratings

All-Star Game Audience Trend

Year Network No. of viewers (000s)
2017 TNT/TBS* 7,800
2016 TNT/TBS* 7,614
2015 TNT/TBS* 7,175
2014 TNT 7,506
2013 TNT 8,020

All-Star Saturday Night Audience Trend

Year Network No. of viewers (000s)
2017 TNT 5,627
2016 TNT 5,592
2015 TNT 6,082
2014 TNT 5,693
2013 TNT 5,898

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