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Volume 21 No. 2

Research and Ratings

The percentage of NBA fans who could correctly identify Sprite and Kia as official NBA sponsors reached record levels for those two brands this season, according to a survey completed recently for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

For the first time in the six-year history of the survey, NBA fans this year were more likely to choose Sprite over Pepsi and Coca-Cola when asked to name the league’s official soft drink. The Coca-Cola Co. brand has been the league’s official soda since 1994, and Coca-Cola has held the category rights since 1986. Nearly one-quarter of the 402 fans surveyed identified Sprite’s status, the highest rate ever for the brand and the fourth consecutive year-over-year increase. Additionally, the 9.5 percentage point increase this past season among casual fans was the biggest such gain among the 65 brands measured in the survey.

“We find that our collaboration through Sprite with the NBA provides us with the perfect platform to communicate to that brand’s target audience,” said Sharon Byers, senior vice president of sports and entertainment marketing partnerships at Coca-Cola North America. “[The] NBA has a very appealing demographic for the Sprite brand: Avid fans are younger, more multicultural and more engaged with social media than other major league fans.”

Byers said the brand puts a heavy emphasis on its digital campaign: currently is a completely NBA-themed page, including images of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and others.

As was the case for Sprite, nearly one-quarter of the fans surveyed correctly identified Kia as an official NBA sponsor. That response rate was the highest correct response for any auto brand since 2007 in surveys not only about the NBA but also about sponsorship recognition in the NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS, NASCAR and the PGA Tour.

Kia signed with the NBA in January 2008 and agreed to a multiyear extension before the 2010-11 season. Since that extension, it has seen 22 consecutive months of record U.S. sales, its market share of automobiles sold in the U.S. has risen from 1.6 percent to 4.0 percent, and its deliveries last month were up 41 percent over a year ago.

As part of its expanded deal, Kia added title sponsorship of the annual NBA Performance Awards.

“When we started the NBA relationship, we were a challenger brand — and we still see Kia as a challenger brand,” said Shawn Morrissey, vice president for IMG Consulting, which handles Kia’s U.S. sports business. “But in terms of sports metrics, we continue to innovate and increase share of mind. Our goal has always been to enhance the Kia brand perception and raise awareness and consideration. These numbers show that we’re doing that, and now our added challenge is to protect our share of mind.”

Kia this past season complemented its league deal and NBA-specific media buys with 14 team-level partnerships, including 13 of the 16 teams that made the playoffs.

“Shrinking the perceptions gap between their competitors — or increasing it for those that are market leaders — is the benefit of the association with a leading sports property like the NBA,” said Nikolay Panchev, vice president of research at Turnkey Intelligence.

In other findings:

First-year partner Sprint was correctly identified by 16.4 percent of all fans as the league’s official wireless provider. The company’s 10.9 percentage point improvement since 2010 is second only to Kia’s 13.4 percentage point gain. T-Mobile, the league’s official wireless provider from 2005-11, saw the largest one-year and two-year drops by avid fans (down 10.7 and 14.9 percentage points, respectively) among all brands measured.

State Farm continued to move up in the insurance category, wrapping up its third season as an official NBA partner. The company’s team portfolio grew to 22 clubs, up from 20 during the 2010-11 season.

Taco Bell was the only sponsor to see a year-over-year drop among avid fans, but the brand has been the most recognized quick-service restaurant in each of the three surveys since becoming an official partner prior to the 2009-10 season.

One-quarter of casual fans correctly identified Anheuser-Busch as a league partner, down 5.6 percentage points from last year but up 1.6 points from 2010. The beer maker’s recognition rate among avid fans has averaged 34.5 percent over the six-year history of the survey.

A big jump among avid fans (up 8.5 percentage points) gave Gatorade the highest overall recognition rate (53.8 percent among all fans) of any league partner since 2007.

For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of 402 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.

The 2012 survey was conducted May 31-June 7, a period that coincided with this year’s NBA conference finals. Last year’s survey ran June 1-9.

Respondents were analyzed based on their avidity levels. “Avid” fans are 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.”

When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here. The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for the surveys is +/- 4 percent.

Turnkey Intelligence performs research work for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. More than one-third of NBA’s teams are among Turnkey’s clients.

Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of NBA?
  2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
More likely 53.4% 53.1% 47.7   35.7% 31.2% 32.8%
Unaffected or less likely 46.7% 46.9% 52.3%   64.2% 68.8% 67.2%
Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NBA?
  2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
More likely 45.6% 47.9% 47.2%   34.2% 28.5% 34.8%
Unaffected or less likely 54.4% 52.2% 52.8%   65.8% 71.5% 65.2%
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?
  2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
More likely 49.5% 52.6% 47.7%   34.1% 33.3% 33.8%
Unaffected or less likely 50.5% 47.4% 52.3%   65.8% 66.7% 66.2%


Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using an NBA sponsor’s product/service if they are aware of the relationship?
To read: 36 percent of NBA fans said they would be more likely to consider eating at the NBA’s official quick-service restaurant if they knew what restaurant had that designation. The rate increased to 57 percent when considering only those NBA fans who correctly knew that Taco Bell is the NBA’s official QSR.

Quick-service restaurant (Taco Bell) 36%   57% +21
Consumer appliances (Haier) 32%   50% +18
Wireless service provider (Sprint) 34%   47% +13
Beer (Anheuser-Busch) 37%   48% +11
Insurance (State Farm) 29%   38% +9
Credit card (American Express) 33%   40% +7
Bank (BBVA) 28%   35% +7
Sports/energy drink (Gatorade) 42%   48% +6
Soft drink (Sprite) 43%   46% +3
Automotive (Kia) 33%   35% +2

: What brands do fans think should be NBA sponsors?
To read: 69 percent of NBA fans said they think Gatorade should be an NBA sponsor, compared with 33 percent who think rival Powerade should have an NBA deal. Those numbers became 80 percent and 35 percent, respectively, when considering only those NBA fans who correctly knew that Gatorade is the NBA’s official sports/energy drink.

  Among all NBA fans   Among NBA fans who correctly identified sponsor
Gatorade/Powerade 69%/33% +36   80%/35% +45
Coca-Cola/Pepsi 49%/40% +9   77%/47% +30
Anheuser-Busch/Miller Coors 43%/25% +18   64%/25% +39
Sprint/Verizon 32%/38% -6   61%/38% +23
Taco Bell/McDonald’s 30%/45% -15   57%/46% +11
State Farm/Progressive 38%/23% +15   51%/17% +34
American Express/Visa 37%/48% -11   51%/39% +12
Kia/Honda 22%/21% +1   48%/23% +25
BBVA/Wells Fargo 9%/20% -11   35%/18% +17
Haier/LG 10%/26% -16   35%/27% +8

Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.

SPORTS/ENERGY DRINK 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Gatorade 62.6% 54.1% 59.3%   44.9% 47.3% 43.8%
Powerade 4.4% 4.3% 4.0%   5.1% 6.5% 6.5%
Red Bull 4.9% 7.7% 5.5%   3.1% 4.3% 4.0%
I’m not sure 24.3% 27.3% 21.6%   44.9% 38.2% 39.3%

Gatorade once again led all league sponsors in the survey in awareness among fans and it garnered an eight percentage point increase among avid fans specifically. The NBA in December renewed its deal with the brand, which is the league’s longest-tenured sponsor, providing advertising rights in Brazil, Italy and the U.K. as part of the new deal. Gatorade also is an associate partner for this month’s NBA Summer League, which includes game coverage on NBA TV.

SOFT DRINK 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Sprite 27.2% 22.0% 20.6%   22.4% 12.9% 12.9%
Coca-Cola 21.4% 22.5% 21.1%   19.9% 17.2% 19.4%
Pepsi 10.2% 13.4% 18.1%   10.7% 12.9% 12.9%
I'm not sure 33.5% 32.5% 29.2%   43.9% 43.0% 45.8%

Coca-Cola’s Sprite brand, the official soft drink of the NBA in the U.S. since 1994, scored its highest overall awareness numbers in the six-year history of this survey, surpassing its parent’s namesake, Coca-Cola, for the first time. During All-Star Weekend, Sprite launched its global Uncontainable Game campaign, featuring six NBA players, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. The effort aims to find the best amateur basketball players from 27 countries to represent either Team Sudden or Team Intense in the Sprite Uncontainable Game at the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend. Players can upload a video online at or can showcase their skills at local tournaments and events.

BEER 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Anheuser-Busch 35.0% 35.0% 30.7%   24.5% 30.1% 22.9%
Coors 13.6% 8.6% 8.5%   7.1% 5.4% 6.5%
Miller 10.2% 11.5% 18.1%   7.7% 10.8% 13.4%
Heineken 4.9% 2.4% 3.0%   3.6% 4.8% 0.5%
I'm not sure 35.0% 37.8% 34.2%   53.1% 46.2% 53.2%

Four Points by Sheraton in April announced a partnership marking Four Points’ return as the official hotel brand of MLS. Four Points first joined as a partner during the 2010 playoffs. The brand this summer touted a sweepstakes at for fans who booked reservations and stayed at any Four Points property in North America between June 1 and July 15. The grand prize was an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the league’s 2011 All-Star Game. Fifty other guests won a pair of tickets to a regular-season game of their choice. In addition, Sheraton’s parent company is Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, and Starwood Preferred Guest members are now able to transform their frequent-stayer points into VIP opportunities at MLS events as part of the SPG Moments program.

AUTOMOTIVE 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Kia 34.0% 23.4% 14.6%   15.3% 12.4% 8.0%
Toyota 11.2% 13.9% 11.6%   8.7% 11.3% 5.5%
General Motors 10.2% 9.1% 18.6%   7.1% 9.1% 15.4%
Ford 10.7% 8.6% 13.1%   6.6% 9.1% 7.0%
I'm not sure 27.7% 34.9% 35.7%   55.6% 51.1% 57.2%

Kia added Rookie of the Year to its list of NBA Performance Awards this season, taking over from T-Mobile, which departed as a league sponsor. The Korean automaker was the title sponsor of the NBA Tip-Off Week for the second consecutive year. It also was presenting sponsor of TNT’s broadcast of the All-Star Game and sponsored the game’s MVP award. In addition, Kia has 14 teams on its sponsorship roster and prominently features Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin in ad campaigns for the company.

INSURANCE 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Geico 14.6% 14.4% 15.6%   9.2% 13.4% 13.4%
State Farm 14.1% 11.0% 7.5%   9.2% 9.1% 6.0%
Nationwide 8.3% 3.8% 2.0%   9.7% 4.8% 3.0%
Allstate 7.8% 13.9% 12.1%   8.2% 6.5% 6.0%
I'm not sure 49.5% 44.5% 45.2%   57.7% 59.7% 59.7%

League sponsor State Farm was presenting partner of TNT’s All-Star Saturday Night telecast for the fifth consecutive year and launched its Smart Play Challenge promotion. The promotion produced nearly 150,000 online entries at and 41,000 unique registrants with the top prize of a VIP trip for two to Game 3 of the NBA Finals and a dinner with hall of famer Clyde Drexler. Instant winners won NBA Store gift cards. State Farm also was the title partner of the halftime show for all ABC games throughout the playoffs and had visibility through basket stanchion advertising in more than two-thirds of the league’s arenas.

CREDIT CARD 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
American Express 22.8% 20.1% 20.6%   16.8% 19.9% 16.4%
Visa 24.8% 27.8% 27.6%   14.8% 21.0% 17.9%
MasterCard 7.3% 7.2% 8.5%   10.2% 6.5% 6.5%
I'm not sure 38.3% 38.8% 37.2%   52.6% 47.9% 53.2%

There is no league-level sponsor among shipping companies, but UPS has team-level deals with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders. The Sounders and UPS co-sponsored a book drive this season.

WIRELESS PROVIDER 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
T-Mobile 21.8% 32.5% 36.7%   14.3% 18.8% 16.9%
Sprint 18.0% 8.1% 5.5%   14.8% 5.4% 5.5%
Verizon Wireless 13.6% 21.1% 17.6%   9.2% 15.6% 17.9%
AT&T Wireless 13.1% 9.6% 12.6%   8.2% 8.6% 7.5%
I'm not sure 31.1% 26.8% 24.6%   52.0% 48.4% 50.3%

New league sponsor Sprint saw the largest increase in recognition among fans in the survey after becoming the NBA’s official wireless partner in December. T-Mobile previously had been a league sponsor since 2005. As part of its league deal, Sprint put its name on the balloting for the All-Star Game, on the All-Star Celebrity Game that aired on ESPN and on an NBA TV-broadcast concert held before the All-Star Game itself. The wireless communications company backed an online playoff brackets game on It also developed the custom app Sprint NBA Mobile, which provided access to live ESPN NBA games via Sprint TV’s ESPN channel in addition to highlights, news, stats, and live home and away radio broadcasts to other NBA games.

BANK 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Bank of America 16.5% 16.8% 17.6%   9.2% 10.8% 12.9%
BBVA Compass 15.0% 13.4% NA   9.2% 7.0% NA
Citibank 8.3% 7.7% 13.1%   6.1% 5.9% 13.4%
JPMorgan Chase 6.3% 7.2% 4.0%   6.6% 8.6% 4.5%
Wells Fargo 5.3% 4.3% 5.5%   3.6% 3.2% 3.5%
I'm not sure 44.2% 46.9% 48.2%   61.7% 62.4% 61.2%

In its second year as an NBA sponsor, BBVA Compass was the title sponsor for the Rising Stars Challenge rookie/sophomore game on TNT during All-Star Weekend. This year’s game was the most viewed telecast in the event’s history, averaging a 1.7 rating and 2.73 million viewers, up 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively, from the 2011 event. BBVA also teamed with NBA Cares again this year for the BBVA Compass NBA Team. Works.onTour charitable initiative in cities nationwide.

QUICK-SERVICE RESTAURANT 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Taco Bell 18.9% 24.4% 22.1%   17.1% 15.1% 14.9%
McDonald's 20.0% 21.5% 19.1%   14.1% 17.2% 13.9%
Subway 13.9% 12.4% 10.1%   5.9% 11.3% 9.5%
KFC 6.1% 2.4% 7.0%   2.4% 3.2% 5.5%
Burger King 2.8% 3.8% 6.0%   4.7% 3.2% 5.0%
I'm not sure 35.0% 34.5% 33.7%   53.5% 46.2% 48.3%

For the third consecutive year, league partner Taco Bell offered the Graduate To Go experience for teens at the Taco Bell Skills Challenge during All-Star Weekend. Each NBA Challenge player was paired with a teen from an Orlando area Boys & Girls Club. The teens had a chance to be on court during the Challenge contest, and each received an educational scholarship with a total of $55,000 in scholarships ultimately awarded.

CONSUMER APPLIANCES 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Haier 14.6% NA NA   9.2% NA NA
LG 12.6% NA NA   8.7% NA NA
Samsung 10.7% NA NA   6.6% NA NA
I'm not sure 53.4% NA NA   64.8% NA NA

Haier since 2007 has been title sponsor of the Haier Shooting Stars competition during All-Star Weekend. The company signed on as an NBA sponsor in April 2006 and re-signed with the league in 2010.

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