G League tips with new teams, plans for more
The rebranded G League tips off its 17th season Friday with a record 26 teams as the league closes in on achieving its “30-for-30” affiliation goal with NBA teams.
The NBA-owned G League’s plan is to have each of the NBA’s 30 teams directly affiliated with 30 G League teams within the next two years. The G League has added 10 teams over the past five years.
This year’s 26-team G League is up from 22 teams last season, with 20 NBA teams now owning G League franchises. The Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers are the remaining NBA teams that don’t have a direct affiliation with a G League team. The Washington Wizards will add their own G League team in 2018.
“All are in active conversations,” G League President Malcolm Turner said of the three NBA teams lacking a direct G League affiliation. “We can project our goal of having 30 for 30 within the next two years.”
The league’s growth is reflected in the run-up of G League franchise values.
In 2014, the New York Knicks paid about $5.5 million for their G League team. Today, franchises are selling for between $7.5 million and $9 million, and values are expected to climb.
The league said more than half of the teams last year were profitable but would not provide any specific team profitability information.
Fueling the growth is Gatorade’s entitlement deal of the league and the NBA’s new collective-bargaining agreement that this year for the first time allows NBA parent teams to have two players on their rosters with two-way contracts with G League teams. The “two-way” players are allowed to spend up to 45 days with the NBA parent team.
“The new CBA is accelerating the impact of the G League,” Turner said. “It is a tangible commitment to player development.”
Besides the name change from the D-League to the G League to reflect Gatorade’s title sponsorship deal, the G League logo will appear on all uniforms and on in-arena signage throughout all 26 G League arenas.
Gatorade’s main focus of its deal is to use the G League for product testing and to integrate the company’s sports science efforts within the league.
“We will incubate our latest products and equipment in the locker rooms, with teams having the opportunity to collaborate with Gatorade right away with the intention of driving innovation,” said Jeff Kearney, global head of sports marketing for Gatorade. “We have a responsibility to improve the experience for athletes.”
Through Gatorade’s Sports Science Institute, the company and the league this season will begin working on programs such as sleep tracking, sweat testing, nutrition and other player wellness programs.
“It’s a new brand identity for the league, but the really compelling aspect is the sports science,” Turner said. “We can take their insights to our players to enhance their performance.”
Last year, the G League’s total regular-season attendance was 1,410,902, up 9 percent from the previous season. The league is boosting its gate by having some of its NBA parent teams host G League games in their home arenas. For example, Raptors 905 played one game last season at Air Canada Centre where the team drew 18,090 fans, the largest crowd in D-League history. The Oklahoma City Thunder-owned OKC Blue played at Chesapeake Energy Arena and drew 17,695 fans per game.
“As G League teams move into adjacent NBA markets, we see NBA teams lending branding to G League teams,” Turner said.