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Volume 21 No. 13
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Is it time for a shot clock deal in the NBA?

League close to signing its first timing sponsor

A new shot clock, which a source called overdue, would add even more advertising around NBA baskets.
Photos by: GETTY IMAGES
More than 60 years after the NBA instituted the 24-second shot clock, the league is close to signing its first timing sponsorship deal and doing so at its top, global marketing partnership level.

According to industry sources, the NBA is in advanced talks with multiple watch brands and technology companies for a deal that would designate the sponsor as the official timing partner of the league and would include all timing aspects of an NBA game. Included in that would be branding on the 24-second clock itself, which as one industry source put it, “has barely been updated since it was put in [for the 1954-55 season].”

The sources identified Tag Heuer as one of the companies in advanced talks, while Tissot also has expressed interest in a deal.

Since it’s unprecedented, the value of such a deal is not known, but the agreement would include global licensing rights for the watch category, national broadcast exposure, and in-arena advertising around a redesigned 24-second clock that sits atop both basket stanchions. The rights also

would likely extend to the NBA-owned D-League and the WNBA.

The NBA hopes to have a deal completed by the start of the season in late October, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations. It is unclear how the league would resolve team deals in the watch and timing categories.

There is a mix of watch/timekeeper deals in place at the team level. The New York Knicks have a deal with Tissot; the Miami Heat has a deal with Hublot. Additionally, the NBA has watch licensing deals with Game Time and Modify Watches.

The NBA declined to comment on the sponsorship pursuit. Tag Heuer and Tissot representatives could not be reached for comment.

Tag Heuer is a sponsor of the IndyCar Series as well as the Formula One McLaren team. Tissot has a deal with FIBA, basketball’s global governing body.

Filling the timing category hasn’t been an easy sell for most premier U.S. sports properties. While the PGA of America has Omega as a top sponsor and the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA Tour count Rolex as sponsors, the NFL has been shopping for a timing deal for the past few years with no success. The NHL and Major League Baseball also do not have leaguewide timing deals.

Among global properties, Hublot had “official timekeeper” rights for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and sold licensed World Cup watches costing up to $42,400. Omega, the Swatch-owned Swiss brand, has held Olympic timekeeping rights since 1932.

NBA players with signature watches include LeBron James, who has a $51,500 Audemars Piguet product, and Tony Parker, who has a deal with Tissot.

The NBA is banking on its global reach to fill the category to mirror other properties’ worldwide deals.

“There is a lot of value in that specific category,” said an NBA team executive. “It’s not just that it is visible, but there is value to the connection to the category as companies look for authentic ways to market their brands.”

The “global marketing partnership” status would put the prospective timing sponsor on par with the NBA’s other global partners: 2K Sports, Adidas, Nike, Spalding and Under Armour. These deals give the brands rights in all of the NBA’s global regions. The NBA’s other league sponsorship deals, with the likes of Harman, State Farm Insurance and Pepsi, are designated as full marketing partnerships, but the rights in those deals do not extend across all global regions.

A timing deal, with its particulars, would also attach even more signage to NBA baskets, which already carry advertising on the padding on the front and sides of the basket pole and on the side arms of the basket stanchions.

State Farm has deals with 24 of the league’s teams, with most of those deals including stanchion-arm signage.

On the TV front, the level of exposure that the timing sponsor would receive had not been finalized last week. It was uncertain, for example, if a deal could bring a verbal mention of the sponsor by national game broadcasters — such as, “5 seconds left on the (sponsor name) shot clock” — or if the deal might provide for a company branded bug that would be placed with the shot clock piece of the on-screen scorebox.