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Volume 21 No. 1

Research and Ratings

Brands that aligned themselves with this year’s NBA All-Star Slam Dunk competition or the event’s champion, Blake Griffin, saw notable increases in the percentage of league fans who identified them as NBA sponsors, according to a survey completed recently for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

League partners Kia, Sprite and State Farm all scored their highest awareness levels in the five-year history of the survey among NBA fans who were asked to identify the official league sponsor of several consumer categories. Subway, which does not have a league-level deal but has a marketing agreement with Griffin, also posted its top score in the survey’s history.

League partners on the court for Blake Griffin’s dunk at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend — Kia, Sprite and State Farm — all posted their highest scores in the sponsor survey’s history.

Kia was the largest beneficiary of Griffin’s contest-winning dunk, which saw the Los Angeles Clippers’ forward soar over a 2011 Kia Optima. In the survey, 23.4 percent of avid fans correctly selected Kia as the league’s official automobile, the highest response rate ever generated by the league’s auto partner. Toyota, for comparison, was the league’s official car from 2005 to 2009, and it peaked at an 11.6 percent awareness mark among avid fans in the survey fielded during last year’s Finals.

Kia also saw a survey-best year-over-year increase of 6.6 percentage points in the overall number of fans who recognized its official status.

“We definitely caught lightning in a bottle,” said Tim McGhee, senior vice president for IMG Consulting, who handles Kia’s sports business. “I don’t think anybody expected it to be as big as it was, or still is. It worked on every single level.”

McGhee said the stunt was Griffin’s idea and was made possible by a collaboration between the league, Kia, Sprite (title sponsor of the dunk contest) and State Farm (presenting sponsor of All-Star Saturday Night). Kia did not have a relationship with Griffin before the event; the two sides subsequently agreed to a long-term deal in June.

Kia signed with the NBA in January 2008 and agreed to a multiyear extension before the start of the 2010-11 season.

According to data from The Nielsen Co., the dunk contest was watched by a record 8.1 million viewers, 49 percent more than last year. Kia proceeded to develop a TV ad featuring Griffin’s dunk, and through June 27, various videos of the dunk had drawn more than 2 million views on YouTube.

McGhee said data from, an online resource for automotive information, showed that car buyers said they were 20 percent more likely the day after the dunk to consider buying a Kia compared with an average Sunday during the season. They also were twice as likely to consider buying an Optima.

State Farm, meanwhile, saw growth in its awareness levels, as well. Eleven percent of avid fans correctly identified the company as the league’s insurance sponsor (up from 7.5 percent last year). Among casual fans, the response rate was 9.1 percent, twice the rate as in the 2009 study.

This was State Farm’s first full season as a league sponsor — it signed on in February 2010 — and the brand received significant exposure as a result of its logo placement on the basket arm of the hoop that Griffin dunked on. The company also continued its ad relationship with LeBron James.

Sprite, a league partner since 1994, had its logo on the side of the Kia that Griffin jumped over. The brand’s awareness level among avid fans reached a high point this year and is nearly double what it was in 2008.

Subway backed Griffin, “SportsCenter” dunks.

As for Subway, while it is not a league partner, 12 percent of fans in the study said they think Subway is the NBA’s official quick-service restaurant. Subway’s NBA business consists primarily of four team sponsorships and its deal with the Clippers’ Griffin, along with significant media buys across sports. Subway ad spending during 2010-11 national NBA broadcasts was more than $7 million, according to data from The Nielsen Co. It also sponsored a “Dunks of the Night” feature on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and the “Fresh Take” feature throughout TNT’s playoff coverage.

American Airlines got the biggest bang for the buck among team-level sponsors. The airline sponsors two clubs: Miami and Dallas (this year’s NBA Finals teams), and those team deals feature naming rights to each club’s home arena. The 5.9 percentage point increase in overall fan awareness was second only to Kia’s jump. The company’s activation was limited to in-venue promotions, with no national network advertising done during NBA telecasts, according to Dawn Turner, the airline’s manager of sports and entertainment marketing.


Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of nearly 400 members of the Greenfield Online Omnibus panel who were at least 18 years old.

Is it important to you to be aware of which companies are official sponsors of the NBA?
  2011 2010 2009   2011 2010 2009  
Yes 52.6% 49.8% 44.6%   35.4% 36.8% 31.2%  
No 47.4% 50.3% 55.4%   64.6% 63.2% 68.8%  
Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NBA?
  2011 2010 2009   2011 2010 2009  
More likely 53.1% 47.7% 46.2%   31.2% 32.8% 32.7%  
Unaffected or less likely 46.9% 52.3% 53.8%   68.8% 67.2% 67.4%  
Are you more or less likely to regularly consume a product/service if that product/ service is an official sponsor of the NBA?
  2011 2010 2009   2011 2010 2009  
More likely 50.7% 47.7% 41.6%   30.7% 32.3% 24.9%  
Unaffected or less likely 49.3% 52.3% 58.4%   69.4% 67.7% 75.1%  
Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/ services if the company is an official sponsor of the NBA?
  2011 2010 2009   2011 2010 2009  
More likely 52.6% 47.7% NA   33.3% 33.8% NA  
Unaffected or less likely 47.4% 52.3% NA   66.7% 66.2% NA  

NA: Not applicable; question was not asked in annual survey.

The survey period was June 1-9, a time that coincided with the NBA Finals. Last year’s survey period was June 3-9.

Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their avidity levels. Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the NBA?” and claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season” and “have a favorite team.”

The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 5 percent. Ad spending totals are from The Nielsen Co. and represent estimated spending on NBA broadcasts on ABC, ESPN and TNT based on network-provided rate cards.

Turnkey performs research and consulting work for more than 70 North American major league clubs, as well as numerous league offices and sports brands. The NBA and several of its teams have been among the company’s clients.

Taco Bell, McDonald's and Subway all saw gains in awareness among both avid and casual fans. League sponsor Taco Bell once again sponsored the Skills Challenge during All-Star Weekend and allowed fans to vote for this year's participants in the contest by logging on to Subway created, a digital dunk simulator that let consumers upload a photo on the body of Los Angeles Clippers forward and Subway spokesman Blake Griffin and choose from five of his best dunks. McDonald's was the league's QSR sponsor from 1990 until 2009 and still has more than a dozen teams it sponsors.

The NBA and Coca-Cola Co., a league sponsor since 1986, announced in February a multiyear extension of their global marketing partnership. The company's Sprite brand has been positioned as the official soft drink of the NBA in the U.S. since 1994, and the brand this year scored its highest overall awareness numbers in the five years of this survey, drawing largely from its involvement in All-Star Weekend. It continues to narrow the gap in recognition among avid fans between it and its parent company's namesake brand.

Gatorade was again the dominant choice for NBA fans, drawing more than 50 percent of responses in the survey. The PepsiCo brand's ad effort featured three TV spots that broke during All-Star Weekend and continued for the balance of the season, individually showcasing Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant. The ads touted the G-Series Prime, Perform and Recover line of products. Powerade, meanwhile, rolled out a series of activations around NBA MVP Derrick Rose. It pledged $25 for every postseason point Rose scored, with a minimum $15,000 donation — Rose finished with 434 points — to the Chicago Park District to restore the basketball courts at Murray Park where Rose played while growing up in Chicago.

Anheuser-Busch partnered with the NBA and TEAM Coalition (a group aimed at promoting responsible drinking and positive fan behavior) for a seasonlong promotion called "Designated Driver for the Season," an effort that attracted more than 65,000 pledges for designated drivers. Pledges could be made in-arena, online or by mail-in. A winner for each Finals team was acknowledged during that championship series, and each was invited to attend a Finals game. A third fan from a team not in the Finals was chosen to attend the 2012 NBA All-Star Game as an additional prize. A-B also, last summer, signed a naming-rights deal to the Budweiser Baseline Bar at the new Amway Center in Orlando and agreed to a long-term extension of its deal with Madison Square Garden that made it a top-level, signature partner for the home of the New York Knicks.

In a category that does not have a leaguewide sponsor, Hilton saw an increase in awareness for the second straight year among avid fans. The hotel chain is a sponsor of the NBA champion Mavericks and offered Hilton employees a chance to purchase discounted tickets, without processing fees, for select Mavs games.

Despite not renewing its league sponsorship prior to the past season, FedEx's recognition among casual fans grew. FedEx had been a leaguewide sponsor since 2005 and did draw playoff exposure this year through the Memphis Grizzlies' postseason run as naming-rights holder for that team's arena.

League sponsor Kia saw the largest increase in recognition among fans in the survey thanks in large part to its involvement in All-Star Weekend. The automaker was the presenting sponsor for the game telecast on TNT and the game MVP Award. In addition, Clippers forward Blake Griffin's winning dunk in the dunk contest, leaping over a Kia Optima, became a hit on YouTube and subsequently was incorporated into print and TV ads. Kia also is the title sponsor for the NBA Performance Awards.

Spain-based BBVA in September signed a multiyear deal to become the official bank of the NBA, WNBA and NBA D-League in the United States, Spain and Puerto Rico. BBVA Compass, the bank's U.S. subsidiary, had an ad presence on ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and this season. In April, the league and BBVA Compass launched a mobile grassroots marketing effort that made 30 stops in nine markets. BBVA also title sponsored the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game that was televised by ESPN.

League partner State Farm made the largest gain in awareness levels in this category. The company introduced a national promotion called "Score With A Song" at All-Star Weekend, giving fans a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas. The promotion and related website featured an interactive game that involved using the company's "Like a Good Neighbor" commercial jingle. State Farm also has partnerships with 20 NBA teams. Geico, meanwhile, signed a five-year deal in August as a founding partner for the new Amway Center in Orlando.

A new T-Mobile ad campaign debuted during the league's Christmas Day games on ESPN and ABC, with Spike Lee as director and featuring Dwyane Wade and Charles Barkley. T-Mobile has been a league sponsor since 2005. As for AT&T, it teamed with NBA Digital to launch NBA TV on AT&T U-verse TV. It also, in March, announced its intention to acquire T-Mobile USA in a deal valued at $39 billion.

American Express returned in December as a leaguewide corporate sponsor after a five-year absence. AmEx became the first presenting partner of the NBA All-Star Entertainment Series. It offered cardholders during All-Star Weekend, as well as throughout the season, chances to attend games, events and NBAthemed hospitality showcases.

While this category is open at the league level, American Airlines drew attention as the naming-rights sponsor for the two arenas that hosted 2011 NBA Finals games: American Airlines Center in Dallas and AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. In total, American gained national exposure through a combined 29 regular-season and 21 postseason home national TV broadcasts at those two venues. Around the Finals, the airline developed the "All American Airlines Shoot Out" on Facebook, where fans could win up to 50 percent off their next trip to or from Dallas or Miami.

NA: Not applicable; was not listed as a response option in this year's survey.