Celtics, 76ers Utilize NBA London Game To Expand Global Reach
The NBA Boston Celtics squared off against the Philadelphia 76ers in a game at London's O2 Arena on Thursday. The Eastern Conference rivals were each playing a regular season game in the U.K. for the first time in franchise history, having both played preseason games there in the past -- the Celtics in '07 and the 76ers in '13. London had previously hosted seven NBA regular season contests, including one in each of the past five years. Ahead of the game, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said, "I am delighted the NBA continues to bring the world's best basketball to our great city in what has now become a well-established and eagerly anticipated event on London's sporting calendar."
The teams arrived in the English capital earlier this week to robust fanfare. "Everywhere we go, there are fans waiting outside hoping to get a glimpse of the team," Celtics Team President Rich Gotham said. "It almost feels like an all-star game or a playoff game with the amount of media that is covering our every step over here." The Celtics and 76ers' rosters are loaded with players born outside of the U.S. The 76ers boast Australian-born rookie Ben Simmons, Cameroonian Joel Embiid and Croatian Dario Šarić, among others, while the Celtics lineup includes Aussie Aron Baynes, German Daniel Theis and Frenchman Guerschon Yabusele. 76ers President of Business Operations Chris Heck said, "Being a part of something on the global stage has been our hope and now it's coming true."
Nike is NBA London Game 2018's presenting sponsor, but both teams also catered events for their partners this week. On Wednesday, the 76ers hosted an event at Kensington Palace for the team's fans and partners. Among the reception's crowd were several hundred who made the trip from Philadelphia. Similarly, the Celtics brought a group of sponsors as part of their traveling contingent. Gotham said, "Most of what we're doing over here with our team sponsors is really hospitality-oriented versus brand-oriented." Investment management firm Putnam, which sponsors the Celtics' parquet floor and courtside club, participated in a team event, while health services company Optum enjoyed a suite.
The 76ers were the designated home team for the game. "We see this as a brand play, and a big-picture play for the franchise," Heck said. "It is not a moneymaker directly. ... This is a marketing play, every bit as an investment back into this franchise to build it up." The NBA's league office in London managed and handled all of the logistics for the event with The O2. However, the 76ers brought their entire game presentation, including the dance team, mascot and in-game entertainment, to help promote the feel of being in their home arena.
Players from each franchise did their parts to help strengthen interest, including some who journeyed into the community to add a personal touch. Premier League side Crystal Palace, in which the 76ers ownership group has a stake, took part in local promotions with the 76ers throughout the week. Additionally, Embiid, Justin Anderson and Markelle Fultz represented the team at the English Football League Cup match between Arsenal and Chelsea on Wednesday, while the Celtics' Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye also attended the game. Other player promotions included Baynes' participation in a video shoot with former Wallabies captain and current Premiership Rugby side Harlequins player James Horwill and Theis conducting a Facebook Live chat in his native German.
|Kyrie Irving (left) and Ben Simmons (right) help drive global interest in the NBA.
Venturing into the int'l marketplace is essential for the further development of each team's brand. In November, the 76ers signed their first int'l partner in Australian meat-pie company Four'N Twenty. Heck said that deals with Australian companies make sense because the team has garnered interest Down Under since former Australian national team head coach Brett Brown was hired in Philadelphia. While interest has increased since the arrival of Simmons, the deal with Four'N Twenty was completed before he made his debut. "The conversation started because of our international makeup," Heck said. "But also a strategy from our Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment sponsorship team to go global." The franchise's global expansion is also focusing on Asia. Last month, it hired a Philadelphia-based Chinese employee to produce content for the Mandarin-speaking market in hopes to grow interest on the mainland. "[China] is an absolute top priority for us. We have been working with the league and we're hoping to play there sooner than later," Heck said.
The Celtics are likewise tailoring their partnerships for the int'l market. Shirt sponsor GE is a worldwide corporation with a presence in Europe. "While we're playing in London, we're looking at this as accessing the whole European market in primetime," Gotham said. "That GE jersey patch travels everywhere we go, so it's obviously very big exposure for them and something that went into the creation of our partnership with GE. ... It was really about the global footprint that the Celtics have and the fact that our brand and our uniforms are seen all over the world."
The NBA is an increasingly global game, having staged games in Asia, Europe and Mexico over the last three decades. Gotham, who was with the Celtics for their London trip in '07, noticed a vast difference in fanfare in the decade since that visit. "The NBA has been a global business for a long time, the Celtics have been one of the truly global brands in all of sports since the '80s, but the intensity of the coverage and the intensity of the interest is exponential based on the way fans all over the world can follow the team," he said.