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Volume 22 No. 11
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NBA All-Star: ‘We are in New York, so it has to be bigger’

NYC and MSG host their first All-Star Game since 1998.
One market, two arenas, two host teams — and a massive new community service event. It adds up to make this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend in New York one of the most complex, unique and challenging events undertaken by the league.

“We are in New York, so it has to be bigger,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum. “We set out to make sure the entire city was included in some way.”

Whenever a big sports event is staged in New York City, there are inevitably questions about how it can possibly make an impact in the nation’s noisiest market. Recall last year’s Super Bowl and even the MLB All-Star Game in 2013. This week, the

SBJ Podcast:
NBA writer John Lombardo and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour talk about this week's NBA All-Star Game, its prospects in New York and the challenges involved.

challenge falls to the nearly 30 NBA corporate sponsors that will try to be heard over the din of New York’s omnipresent marketing cacophony.

The last time the city hosted the NBA All-Star Game, the year was 1998. Madison Square Garden was host for the weekend, and on the court, Michael Jordan won MVP honors. Back then, the event was a far more quaint affair than what All-Star has become now, with the halftime entertainment featuring a medley of songs from Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera.”

By comparison, this year, the league is rolling out a JBL-sponsored Entertainment Series around the game featuring some of music’s biggest superstars. On game night specifically, Christina Aguilera will headline the pregame concert, and Ariana Grande will take center stage at halftime.

Also notably different this year is that the activities of All-Star Weekend are being divided between the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Garden in Manhattan. Barclays Center is hosting the league’s All-Star Saturday night events; Madison Square Garden will host the Sunday night All-Star Game along with the Friday night celebrity game and the All-Star team practices Saturday morning. It’s first time the celebrity game and the practices have been ticketed events held in an arena. In past years, those events have been held in smaller venues as part of the league’s fan-interactive Jam Session showcase.

This year, both are sellouts at Madison Square Garden.

While the official on-court activities are split between Brooklyn and Manhattan, much of the party scene for the weekend will be in Manhattan, including a Sprite-sponsored concert on Friday at Irving Plaza hosted by LeBron James and featuring Drake. On Thursday, Fall Out Boy will play at the American Express NBA All-Star Concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

“This NBA All-Star Game is very different from the Super Bowl or MLB All-Star, because even though it’s one city, dealing with the Garden and Barclays: The net effect is like dealing with two different markets,” said Elizabeth Lindsey, head of consulting at Wasserman Media Group, which represented clients during New York’s Super Bowl and is representing NBA clients American Express and Diageo in efforts this week. “It’s more complex because of that, but somewhat easier because the NBA is so proscribed with its All-Star Week in how sponsors are integrated.”

The weekend will feature a pair of NBA House sites.
Photo by: NBA
As was the case with the NFL and its Super Bowl last year, the NBA was unable to secure the Javits Center for its fan-festival event (Jam Session). Instead, there are two NBA House entities being set up for fan interaction and sponsor activation. One is at Long Island University in Brooklyn, near the Barclays Center. The other is near Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

“To draw interest in a place as crowded as New York, you’ve got to artfully integrate online and offline,” said Bryan Duffy, executive vice president of sales and marketing at the MKTG agency, which did projects for the NFL and for Nike at last year’s Super Bowl. This year MKTG is producing the NBA House in Manhattan and is separately creating a “Be Like Mike” installation for Gatorade. “So we create events that are sharable through social media,” Duffy said. “Consumers need to interact with them in an authentic way so they can be part of the experience along with their social media networks. That just adds to the authenticity of any event; consumers are blasting social media about it, not the sponsor. Then it will have a ‘cool’ factor that attracts even more people.”

The league expects a total of 50,000 fans to visit the NBA House sites throughout the week. Last year’s Jam Session event at the convention center in New Orleans drew an announced attendance of 87,000 fans — but that includes having had the attraction of the celebrity game and All-Star practices that will be at MSG this year.

BBVA Compass is the presenting sponsor of each NBA House (see related story).

“It’s important for each of our partners to make sure their activities are targeted and unique,” said Emilio Collins, executive vice president of global marketing for the NBA. “Our objective is to activate across all five boroughs, with a significant amount of activity in Brooklyn and Manhattan in particular.”

Another twist on the traditional NBA All-Star effort this year is the league’s plan to host fitness clinics at 100 area schools — with 20 clinics in each of New York’s five boroughs all on Friday. Each event will have a player representative taking part, whether it’s an All-Star; a current or retired player; or a WNBA player. The effort adds to what has become the league’s long-standing “Day of Service” initiative of All-Star week, but with the new logistical challenge of hosting 100 events on the same day in the same city. That compares to past efforts that have typically involved a more limited number of sites, such as a school and a park for a cleanup effort or a court refurbishment.

“We want to make sure it is a big part of All-Star,” said Todd Jacobson, senior vice president of social responsibility for the NBA. “It is a huge undertaking.”

The logistics of the program call for the NBA to create a “command center” in Union Square in Manhattan. The league also is enlisting the services of West Point cadets to help operate a fleet of vans to transport NBA personnel to the various locations throughout the boroughs.

Tatum said this year’s All-Star effort will feature a record amount of local marketing, as well. Each of the city’s major transportation hubs and more than 600,000 subway MetroCards will have NBA branding. So will buses and subway cars, as well as billboards and bus shelters throughout the city. The league additionally will distribute thousands of NBA-themed wristbands to fans, and the league is launching an interactive All-Star Map on and via its league app through which fans can trace New York’s basketball history.

“The nature of dealing with five boroughs and multiple venues, there is just more complexity,” Tatum said. “It has been an incredible logistical effort to deal with it. That has been the biggest challenge.”