A year after seeing a surge in awareness levels, NBA corporate partners saw an across-the board decline in their recognition marks among fans of the league, according to the latest results of an annual survey completed for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
A silver lining of sorts, perhaps, for those official brands: Much of the loss in fans’ mind share was to uncertainty rather than to a competitor. When asked to name the official sponsor for the specific categories tracked in the survey, the response “I’m not sure” was at the highest level in each of the categories tracked in the seven-year history of the survey.
Kia’s recognition mark among all NBA fans surveyed, for example, had risen annually, from 6.7 percent in 2009 to 24.7 last year, but it saw a double-digit decline this year (to 21.5 percent among avid fans and 6.5 percent among casual fans). But rather than Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Chrysler seeing gains, the resulting spike came in fans who answered “I’m not sure” when asked who holds the league’s rights in the auto category. That number was 53.3 percent of all fans this year, up 11.6 percentage points from last year.
Similarly, league partner American Express saw a year-over-year decline, but Visa and MasterCard dropped as well — while 59 percent of fans surveyed were unsure who the league’s official credit card partner is, the highest level in that category in the NBA survey’s history.
Nikolay Panchev, vice president of research at Turnkey, said it is important to keep in mind the NBA environment over the past several seasons when analyzing this year’s variations.
“Last year, the survey saw a number of spikes,” he said. “The league was coming off a work stoppage-shortened season [for 2011-12]. Fans were excited to have the NBA back and so were sponsors. All the activation happened over the course of a few months rather than a full season. I think it was almost expected to see recall figures normalize in 2013.”
In the survey fielded a year ago, Taco Bell was the only sponsor to see its awareness level among avid fans decline compared to 2011. This year, only State Farm avoided a loss in awareness among both avid and casual fans. The 15 percent of avid fans who correctly identified the insurance company’s official status with the league was an increase of about one percentage point versus last year’s survey. The brand saw a slight drop among casual fans, though, and it trailed both Geico and Allstate for overall response rate in the insurance category.
Last year, when NFL fans were similarly surveyed about that league’s sponsors in a season that followed the NFL’s work stoppage, scores for the league’s corporate partners were generally up, as well, just as they were for NBA partners last year. But those NFL recognition marks were largely maintained this year, in the survey that followed the year-later 2012 season, instead of sliding back. Of course, no regular-season games were missed because of the NFL’s labor dispute in 2011, unlike the case for the NBA. Whether the corporate partners of the NHL will see their marks fluctuate like the NBA sponsors’ scores have moved — given the NHL’s labor-shortened 2012-13 season — is to be determined.
Among other findings in the NBA survey:
■ Although Sprite saw a decline from last year, it still nabbed its second-highest-ever score among avid fans, and for the second straight year is the most recognized soda brand among that group of fans.
■ Second-year partner Sprint saw a year-over-year decline, but is up 3.5 percentage points from where it was in 2011, before its deal with the league began. T-Mobile, the league’s previous official wireless provider, has seen steep declines over the past two surveys.
■ Bacardi used the 2013 All-Star Game to unveil its new Pineapple Fusion rum. The brand subsequently received exposure throughout TNT’s coverage of All-Star Weekend and via ads on NBA.com through the rest of the season.
For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of more than 400 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.
Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their general 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?”, 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 companies and 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 each survey is +/- 4.9.
Turnkey Intelligence performs research work for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. The NBA and approximately one-third of league’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 the NBA?|
|Unaffected / less likely||47.0%||46.7%||46.9%||76.5%||64.2%||68.8%|
|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?|
|Unaffected / less likely||44.5%||50.5%||47.4%||74.5%||65.8%||66.7%|
|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?|
|Unaffected / less likely||45.5%||54.4%||52.2%||76.0%||65.8%||71.5%|
SPONSORSHIP SIGNIFICANCE AND ASSESSMENT
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: 27 percent of NBA fans said they would be more likely to consider purchasing a liquor that is a league’s official sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 59 percent when considering only those fans who correctly knew that Bacardi is an official NBA corporate partner.
|Category (NBA SPONSOR)||Among All NBA Fans||Among NBA Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor||Difference|
|Liquor^ (Bacardi)||27%||59%||+32 percentage points|
|Quick-service restaurant (Taco Bell)||34%||58%||+24|
|Insurance (State Farm)||32%||52%||+20|
|Wireless service (Sprint)||31%||51%||+20|
|Sports/energy drink (Gatorade)||36%||55%||+19|
|Credit card (American Express)||31%||49%||+18|
|Bank (BBVA Compass)||29%||44%||+15|
|Soft drink (Sprite)||36%||43%||+7|
Subject: What brands do fans think should be NBA sponsors?
To read: 54 percent of NBA fans said they think Gatorade should be an NBA sponsor, compared with 29 percent who think Powerade should have a league deal. Those numbers became 76 percent and 33 percent, respectively, when considering only those NBA fans who correctly knew that Gatorade is the league’s official sports/energy drink sponsor.
|Among all NBA fans||Among NBA Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor|
|NBA Sponsor/Competitor||Response Rates||Difference||Response Rates||Difference|
|Gatorade/Powerade||54% / 29%||+25 percentage points||76% / 33%||+43|
|Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors||36% / 27%||+9||62% / 24%||+38|
|State Farm/Progressive||36% / 26%||+10||63% / 28%||+35|
|BBVA Compass/Wells Fargo||11% / 25%||-14||56% / 22%||+34|
|Sprite/Pepsi||53% / 40%||+13||73% / 40%||+33|
|American Express/Visa||35% / 48%||-13||73% / 46%||+27|
|Kia/Honda||23% / 26%||-3||54% / 27%||+27|
|Bacardi/Captain Morgan||19% / 18%||+1||34% / 16%||+18|
|Sprint/Verizon||28% / 41%||-13||56% / 39%||+17|
|Taco Bell/McDonald’s||31% / 50%||-19||61% / 46%||+15|
^ Respondents were asked about this category in the survey, but the NBA does not define this category specifically like it does for the other categories noted here. 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.
Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NBA?
|I’m not sure||32.5%||24.3%||27.3%||54.5%||44.9%||38.2%|
Gatorade has been the most recognized NBA sponsor in each of the seven years of the survey, and this year it doubled the awareness level of its closest competitor, Anheuser-Busch. The brand’s “Win From Within” campaign includes the ongoing ad called “Fixation” starring Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade. The PepsiCo brand also sponsors the NBA Development League.
|I’m not sure||41.5%||35.0%||37.8%||67.5%||53.1%||46.2%|
The Budweiser Experience at NBA All-Star, tied to this year’s game in Houston, was a free event featuring autograph sessions with NBA legends, a basketball court and a Budweiser bar spotlighting parent Anheuser-Busch’s new Black Crown beer. Black Crown also got exposure through the spring via an NBA.com media buy. Additionally, as part of its sponsorship of the NBA in China, A-B launched promotions around its Harbin Beer brand at the preseason China Games series. A-B has been the official beer of the NBA since 1998.
|I’m not sure||37.5%||27.7%||34.9%||69.0%||55.6%||51.1%|
Expanding on its endorsement deal with Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin, Kia produced a set of five commercials this season that featured Griffin traveling back in time to give advice to a younger version of himself. Separately, a Kia Optima All-Star reporter contest on Facebook allowed fans to submit 60-second audition videos and vote for their favorites. The contest winner received a trip to the All-Star Game, where that winner served as a guest reporter and broadcast her experience via Kia’s NBA Facebook page. Kia also got airtime and eyeballs from its sponsorship of the “Kia NBA Countdown” pregame show on ABC and ESPN.
|I’m not sure||39.5%||31.1%||26.8%||69.5%||52.0%||48.4%|
Sprint’s “Kevin Durant For A Day Sweepstakes” ran from March through early June, allowing fans to enter the contest via Sprint’s website and through Twitter or Instagram. Among the winner’s gifts is an autographed Sprint HTC One phone. Sprint also sponsors the NBA’s All-Star balloting, the All-Star Celebrity Game, NBA Green Week and the NBA Nation traveling interactive basketball experience.
|I’m not sure||35.5%||33.5%||32.5%||58.5%||43.9%||43.0%|
The Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown tour, now in its fourth year, is making eight stops across the United States this summer. Contestants can participate in a dunk contest for a chance to win $2,500 and automatically advance to the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown Championship Round, to be held during 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Among other brands, the Pepsi Max label scored a success with its “Uncle Drew” ads featuring a disguised Kyrie Irving.
|I’m not sure||42.5%||49.5%||44.5%||68.5%||57.7%||59.7%|
State Farm in this year’s survey scored its highest mark ever among avid fans. The company was the presenting sponsor of the league’s Christmas Day games and unveiled its “Born to Assist” ads during those telecasts. The ads feature Chris Paul of the Clippers and his separated-at-birth twin brother “Cliff,” a State Farm agent. Geico, meanwhile, ran ads through the spring that showcased former NBAer Dikembe Mutombo.
|I’m not sure||41.5%||35.0%||34.5%||68.5%||53.5%||46.2%|
During the 2013 playoffs, Taco Bell launched an in-store promotion selling an NBA-themed Big Box meal. Earlier in the year, during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge at the All-Star Game in Houston, Taco Bell promoted its Boys & Girls Clubs partnership through its “Graduate to Go” initiative, which saw six all-stars each competing in the event on behalf of Houston teenagers.
|I’m not sure||48.0%||38.3%||38.8%||70.0%||52.6%||47.9%|
American Express is the official credit card of Barclays Center (which opened this season) and the rebranded/relocated Brooklyn Nets, along with being the league’s official card since December 2010. Among other brands, Visa added NBA China and the Golden State Warriors to its NBA portfolio this season, and as part of the NBA’s global games schedule for the 2013-14 preseason, the Warriors are scheduled to travel to China to play the Los Angeles Lakers in Beijing’s MasterCard Center in October.
|Bank of America||16.0%||16.5%||16.8%||12.0%||9.2%||10.8%|
|I’m not sure||47.5%||44.2%||46.9%||69.5%||61.7%||62.4%|
BBVA produced commercials featuring Kevin Durant and James Harden this season touting the bank’s fan-related financial services. The Houston-based bank signed on as a league partner in 2010 and is also a sponsor of the WNBA, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.
|I’m not sure||56.5%||NA||NA||80.5%||NA||NA|
This category was not measured prior to the 2013 study. Bacardi, which signed its league-level deal in 2010, also sponsors the Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat. It had a seasonlong presence via banner ads on NBA.com and staged a national retail promotion in about 2,000 grocery and liquor stores with a sweepstakes to win a trip to the Finals.
NA: Not applicable
* Official sponsor
^ Respondents were asked about this category in the survey, but the NBA does not define this category specifically like it does for the other categories noted here.