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Volume 21 No. 47
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Open-borders policy: NBA begins to allow international download of all its team apps

The NBA is opening its team apps for the world to see.

The league has started to allow for international download of all its team apps. Until recently, the NBA had prevented the downloading of any of its 30 teams’ mobile apps overseas. Now, with the rollout, Chicago Bulls fans in Barcelona, Los Angeles Lakers fans in London, and fans in other countries worldwide — with the exception of China — can access their favorite teams’ apps.

The NBA treats China separately from the rest of the globe, with the NBA China business entity controlling mobile distribution regulations in that country. NBA China has yet to authorize team app downloads.

The new open policy gives NBA teams the ability to attract potential sponsorship business while giving fans in foreign countries additional team-specific content. The policy also carries sales rules on par with the league’s marketing rules for team websites. That means that while teams can sell sponsorships within the apps, they cannot sell specific title sponsorship deals to their apps.

“Now that the app has opened up, it is definitely good inventory,” said Brad Sims, chief revenue officer of the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Apps are growing, mobile is now trendy, and people want to be part of the app.”

“Fans are fans of teams, and we want to be able to reach wherever they are and we want to enable them to access team content in this way,” said Amy Brooks, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA. “We see the apps as a growing channel and a way to reach a growing fan base.”

The league declined to disclose any information related to the overall number of downloaded team apps.

The NFL and the NHL already allow international team app downloads. Major League Baseball does not have distinct team apps.

“Our app downloads are three times what we had anticipated but still a fraction of what our Web traffic is,” Sims said. “But people do value it more.”

With that increase in the number of downloads, the LeBron James-led Cavs are shopping a presenting sponsorship for their team app priced in the low six figures, hoping to cash in on the new international reach.

“For us, we can talk to companies that have a national or global footprint instead of a local bank,” Sims said.

Teams are not allowed to geo-target presenting sponsorships and sell multiple such deals. Still, teams expect to see increased value through the wider distribution of their apps.

“We are always interested in any platform that helps us to reach a wider and more global audience, particularly one that allows for sponsor integration,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president, chief sales and marketing officer for the Charlotte Hornets.