The recent NBA season saw the league’s tenured corporate partners receive higher levels of recognition by NBA fans than they did in the previous season, according to the results of the eighth annual sponsor loyalty survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
That marks a substantial turn from last year, when there was an across-the-board decline in the sponsors’ recognition marks among fans of the league versus results of the 2012 survey.
Among the 10 categories measured in the survey, the only sponsor to see a decline in its recognition score was Diageo for its Captain Morgan brand, but Diageo did not become the NBA’s official spirits brand until November. In the nine remaining categories, each featuring a returning sponsor, those companies and brands saw gains.
Sprint, with Kevin Durant in a recent ad, saw its recognition shoot up.
Sprint was the sponsor that saw the biggest year-over-year improvement: Nearly 20 percent of the fans surveyed this season knew that the brand is the league’s official wireless service provider, up from about 10 percent of fans surveyed for the 2013 study.
Sprint used its third season as an NBA partner to launch a number of initiatives, including a TV spot in which a boy in a treehouse is trying to convince his mother to let him add Kevin Durant to their Sprint Framily Plan — while a 30-foot incarnation of the Oklahoma City Thunder star is standing next to the tree. Additionally, Sprint’s Kevin Durant For A Day Sweepstakes ran from March through early June, allowing fans to win a Durant-autographed Sprint HTC One phone.
The company also developed “The Crossover,” a branded content series that featured 30 players’ stories (one player from each NBA team). Each episode debuted on Sprint.com and was accessible via NBA.com. As part of the brand’s seasonlong media buys with TNT and ABC, clips of the videos ran during the Sprint Halftime Report on each network during game coverage.
Sprint also drew association with fans through the NBA Game Time app, which is free to Sprint subscribers.
“NBA Game Time users have proven valuable to us with a higher average revenue per user, and they churn at a lower rate than the average Sprint customer,” said Tim Considine, Sprint’s director of sports marketing.
With its survey-best year-over-year jump of more than 10 percentage points among all fans — and also a survey-best 10 percentage-point gain among avid fans — Considine said the company believes it is hitting its target.
“Sprint’s primary objectives with the NBA partnership are to increase Sprint’s market share of avid NBA fans and to retain avid NBA fans in Sprint’s existing customer base,” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sprite’s two percentage-point increase compared to 2013 was the smallest gain of the tenured sponsors tracked, but that growth among avid and casual fans combined still pushed the brand’s recognition level to its second-highest mark ever, trailing only its score in 2012. The brand continues to benefit from the convergence of its relationships with both Miami’s LeBron James and the league. Prior to the All-Star Game, for example, Sprite and James launched a new flavored soda, Sprite 6 Mix, supported by two TV spots featuring James and related advertising across other media. Then, the two parties teamed to refurbish The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Louisiana, located in downtown New Orleans, site of the 2014 All-Star Game. It was the seventh straight year the partnership has funded such a project in the All-Star Game host city, and the unveiling of the 2014 renovation drew 11.2 million media impressions, according to Sprite.
Among other survey results:
State Farm’s awareness has risen four straight years.
■ State Farm’s awareness level among avid fans has risen in four consecutive surveys, topping 22 percent this year. Since the 2013 survey was fielded, the company increased its number of team-level deals from 21 to 24 NBA clubs, all of which include branded signage on basket stanchion pads. State Farm also became the first presenting sponsor of NBA regular-season games on ESPN and TNT. The ESPN/ABC partnership included sponsorship of the league’s Christmas Day games, and on TNT, the company secured title sponsorship of All-Star Saturday Night. Additionally, its “Born to Assist” campaign, which features the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and his fictitious twin brother, State Farm agent Cliff Paul, has delivered a double-digit increase in the percentage of NBA fans who will consider becoming and/or intend to become a State Farm client, according to the company.
■ Two fast-food chains are battling for NBA fans’ mind share. One-third of avid fans believe McDonald’s is the league’s official quick-service restaurant, a position held by Taco Bell since 2009. Only Gatorade has a higher recognition level, at 53 percent. McDonald’s was a league-level partner from 1990 till 2009 and this spring aired a new commercial featuring Miami’s James becoming the newest member of a fictional McDonald’s private club (which already included Johnny Manziel) where members can eat the new Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich. James has endorsed the QSR since 2010.
The league’s official QSR, Taco Bell, lagged behind the Golden Arches — even though it saw its recognition score increase this year from 2013. The Yum! brand announced in October a multiyear expansion of its partnership with the league. A new TV spot starring all-star Kevin Love debuted during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge at this year’s All-Star Weekend, promoting the new steak nachos, and a few weeks later an ad for the XXL Steak Crispy Taco featuring the Denver Nuggets’ Nate Robinson began running.
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.
The 2014 survey was conducted May 20-23, a period that coincided with the NBA conference finals. Past surveys were conducted at a similar time.
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 for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. The NBA and approximately one-third of the league’s teams are among Turnkey’s clients.
IMPACT ON SAMPLING AND SUPPORT
|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||45.3%||47.0%||46.7%||74.9%||76.5%||64.2%|
|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?|
|Unaffected / less likely||46.3%||44.5%||50.5%||70.8%||74.5%||65.8%|
|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||48.3%||45.5%||54.4%||73.4%||76.0%||65.8%|
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: 32 percent of NBA fans said they would be more likely to consider purchasing insurance from a company that is the league's official sponsor if they knew which company had that designation. The rate increased to 49 percent when considering only those fans who correctly knew that State Farm is the NBA's official partner in the insurance category.
|CATEGORY (NBA SPONSOR)||AMONG ALL NBA FANS||AMONG NBA FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR||DIFFERENCE|
|Quick-service restaurant (Taco Bell)||38%||60%||+22 pct. points|
|Insurance company (State Farm)||32%||49%||+17 pct. points|
|Credit card (American Express)||36%||46%||+10 pct. points|
|Soft drink (Sprite)||40%||49%||+9 pct. points|
|Sports/energy drink (Gatorade)||40%||49%||+9 pct. points|
|Wireless service provider (Sprint)||33%||41%||+8 pct. points|
|Automotive (Kia)||35%||40%||+5 pct. points|
|Bank (BBVA Compass)||31%||36%||+5 pct. points|
|Beer (Anheuser-Busch)||37%||37%||+0 pct. points|
Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NBA?
|I’m not sure||20.9%||32.5%||24.3%||41.2%||54.5%||44.9%|
|Gatorade topped our study as the most recognized sponsor among NBA fans for the eighth consecutive year. The past season saw Gatorade’s newest NBA spokesman, Indiana’s Paul George, starring in a new ad campaign for the brand’s Fierce line. Additionally, as part of its sponsorship of the NBA Global Games, Gatorade promoted the games on its Facebook page and awarded game tickets to site contest winners.|
|I’m not sure||26.9%||41.5%||35.0%||45.2%||68.5%||53.5%|
|Taco Bell, a league sponsor since 2009, renewed its deal in October to remain the NBA’s sponsor in the quick-service restaurant category, with the company continuing as title sponsor of the All-Star Skills Challenge as part of the deal. This season, the Taco Bell Buzzer Beater play list was introduced on the NBA’s YouTube channel. The play list showcased last-second, game-winning shots and was promoted across the league’s Instagram and Twitter pages. Despite that outreach, more fans still identified McDonald’s as the league’s sponsor in the category (incorrectly so) than fans who rightly cited Taco Bell. In addition, McDonald’s saw an increase in its score from 2013, jumping nearly 10 percentage points. Among its activations, the company paired Miami’s LeBron James with Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel and soccer star Alex Morgan in a commercial to introduce the chain’s newest sandwich.|
|I’m not sure||30.8%||41.5%||35.0%||49.2%||67.5%||53.1%|
|Anheuser-Busch began activating behind its Bud Light brand this past season after promoting its flagship Budweiser brand since 1998. A video featuring former NBA players Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler began airing during the playoffs in support of Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever” promotion. In New Orleans during the season’s All-Star festivities, the inaugural Bud Light District entertainment area hosted the New Orleans All-Star Host Committee Media Party, the NBA on TNT All Star Party, the Bud Light Postgame Party and live musical performances throughout the weekend.|
|I’m not sure||34.8%||48.0%||38.3%||45.2%||70.0%||52.6%|
|American Express in September renewed its sponsorship deal with the league, a deal that began 2010. During the season, AmEx and the NBA launched a section within NBA.com titled “Off the Court” that focused on NBA players away from the arena. The company also sponsored the first Off the Court Rookie Roundtable on the eve of NBA All-Star Media Day that was live-streamed on NBA.com. Those and other activations helped the brand gain recognition as a sponsor with fans in the survey, but more fans still incorrectly cited Visa as the league’s sponsor in the category.|
|I’m not sure||26.4%||35.5%||33.5%||42.7%||58.5%||43.9%|
|In March, Coca-Cola’s Sprite brand launched Sprite 6 Mix, the company’s first soda to be developed in tandem with a celebrity. The soda’s logo incorporated LeBron James’ No. 6 with a crown to represent his King James nickname. The new beverage was touted with a 15-second national TV spot. Rival beverage company Pepsi, meanwhile, introduced its newest installment of the popular Uncle Drew ads for the Pepsi Max brand, with a spot titled “Searching for the Big Man Part 2.|
|I’m not sure||30.8%||37.5%||27.7%||51.3%||69.0%||55.6%|
|Kia, a sponsor of the Los Angeles Clippers and team star Blake Griffin in addition to being a league sponsor, drew extra exposure for its NBA ties this spring when it suspended its team sponsorship but later returned following owner Donald Sterling’s suspension from the league. Griffin starred in a series of eight new TV spots (“The Griffin Force” campaign) for the Kia Optima during the season. The automaker also sponsors TNT’s All-Star Game broadcast as well as the game MVP award, the leaguewide Kia Performance Awards, and more than a dozen teams.|
|Captain Morgan (Diageo)*||11.9%||16.5%||NA||5.5%||4.0%||NA|
|Grey Goose (Bacardi)||6.0%||4.0%||NA||6.0%||3.0%||NA|
|Jim Beam (Suntory)||6.0%||2.0%||NA||5.0%||3.0%||NA|
|I’m not sure||52.7%||56.5%||NA||66.8%||80.5%||NA|
|Diageo in November became the NBA’s new official spirits brand, replacing Bacardi, who in 2010 was named the league’s first official spirits sponsor. Diageo promoted its Ciroc and Crown Royal brands in its NBA marketing campaigns, including Crown Royal’s “Shot of the Game” and the “Reign On Plays of the Week.” The Ciroc brand was designated as the “toast of the NBA.” Diageo also owns the Captain Morgan brand. Bacardi, meanwhile, is still active on the team level, including sponsoring the official watch parties for Miami Heat road games.|
|I’m not sure||25.9%||39.5%||31.1%||43.7%||69.5%||52.0%|
|Coinciding with the start of the playoffs, Sprint spots starring Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant promoting the company’s new Framily Plan began airing nationally. During NBA All-Star Weekend, fans participated in interactive events at the Sprint NBA Experience at Jam Session, and the Sprint NBA Celebrity All-Star Game was played this season in the Sprint Arena, part of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Sprint also is the official wireless company of the WNBA and NBA Development League.|
|I’m not sure||37.8%||42.5%||49.5%||56.3%||68.5%||57.7%|
|State Farm in this year’s survey scored its highest mark ever among NBA fans. The insurer unveiled a spot during the league’s Christmas Day games for its “Chris & Cliff” campaign featuring the Clippers’ Chris Paul. State Farm also was the presenting sponsor of the Christmas Day broadcasts for the second year in a row. State Farm returned as title sponsor of the All-Star Saturday Night events as well.|
|Bank of America||10.0%||16.0%||16.5%||10.1%||12.0%||9.2%|
|I’m not sure||37.8%||47.5%||44.2%||56.3%||69.5%||61.7%|
|Throughout the past season, BBVA used NBA players Kevin Durant and James Harden and hall of famer Clyde Drexler in ads and sponsor activations. In addition, surrounding the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, fans were able to vote online for their favorite rookie, the starting lineups and the game MVP.|
* Official sponsor
NA: Not applicable; category was not measured prior to the 2013 survey.