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Volume 22 No. 35

Marketing and Sponsorship

The league is experimenting with double-decker buses in New York City and Los Angeles that will include sponsor activation.
Photo: nba

The NBA is getting on the bus for the playoffs and finals.

New marketing and fan engagement efforts include, for the first time, NBA Playoffs buses outfitted with fan interactive elements and sponsor activations inside the double-decker vehicles.

The two buses were set to appear in New York and Los Angeles from April 11-14. Activations on the buses included Beats listening stations with team-branded headphones, a live DJ with a Beats-branded station on the upper deck of the bus, a Tissot display case with team-branded watches, an NBA 2K Gaming Lounge, a photo station featuring the Larry O’Brien Trophy, a Gatorade cooler stocked with products, and discounts to the NBA Store. The buses can accommodate up to 30 people at a time.

The league parked a bus at four high-profile locations in New York including in front of the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue, at Madison Square Garden and at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Locations in Los Angeles included L.A. Live and Venice Beach.

“It is a new fan engagement opportunity and integrates partners into that,” said Kerry Tatlock, senior vice president of marketing partnerships for the NBA. “We are going to take a look at how it performs, but it gives fans an opportunity to interact with our partner brands and the game.”

The bus activation was limited to the first weekend of the NBA postseason but may be expanded in the future after the league evaluates the program.

“It is something that is a test and learn,” Tatlock said. “We want to have our partners engage. We will see how it plays out.”

Another new postseason sponsor activation comes from American Express, which will offer cardholders a 32 percent discount at NBAStore.com when any player scores a triple-double in any postseason game. The discount will be offered for 24 hours after the feat.

Another notable marketing effort is an international expansion of the postseason bracket challenge offered on NBA.com. Last year the challenge, which asks fans to predict the winner and length of each playoff series, was offered only in the U.S. and Canada. This season, versions will be offered in 12 international markets. Fans will be awarded various prizes for correct brackets. In the U.S. and Canada, fans can win $1 million for predicting a perfect postseason bracket.

The NBA and Hollywood again are teaming up for movie promotions during the playoffs. Universal Pictures and the NBA have co-branded spots promoting “The Secret Life of Pets 2” during the first round of the playoffs on ESPN and ABC. A deal with Warner Brothers promotes “Godzilla: King of Monsters” during the second round, a deal with Disney promotes the new “Aladdin” film during the Western Conference Finals, and a partnership with Sony Pictures promotes “Men in Black: International” during the Finals.

Other postseason activation includes Kia again serving as title partner of the end-of-season Kia NBA Performance Awards. Rakuten will provide e-commerce offers throughout the playoffs, and YouTube TV will again be the presenting partner of the NBA Finals.

In Wisconsin, where cheese is king, add an endorsement deal with Sargento for Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich.

Team mascot Bernie Brewer has been the indelible symbol of the Brewers for nearly 50 years, but with a National League MVP to his credit, and a growing endorsement roster, Yelich is moving to the forefront.

Sargento, an important enough Brewers sponsor that its team rights include dugout signage and an “official cheese designation,” will use Yelich’s name and likeness on packaging and point-of-sale advertising.

It’s one of a handful of Brewers corporate sponsors who have added Yelich to their team rights, including new stadium naming-rights sponsor American Family Insurance, Pepsi, Associated Bank and the local Chevy dealers association. MLB apparel licensees New Era and Stance also have signed on, adding to a list of endemics that already included Under Armour, Steiner Sports, Topps and Louisville Slugger.

Associated Bank is one of the sponsors that has tapped into Yelich.

In most cases, there’s a cause-related or community program associated with the endorsements.

“American Family Insurance has a big commitment to Milwaukee, as you can see from the naming-rights deal and the fact they are building an office building downtown, and their name is on the new amphitheater where Summerfest is held,” said Eric Bechtel, president of IdeaQuest, American Family Insurance’s strategic and sports marketing agency of record. “Yelich has shown he’s a champion of community efforts, so it’s just another way for any brand marketer to make that statement.”

Paragon Sports has handled on- and off-field contracts for Yelich since he was a first-round draft pick in 2010. “He is a throwback; that baseball-playing kid next door,” said Joe Longo, Paragon president.

During the offseason, Yelich made appearances on “Magnum PI” and MTV’s “Ridiculousness,” along with shooting an MLB Network spot. Since Yelich’s grandfather is native Japanese, Longo said he’s also having talks with brands in Japan. Now the question is whether Yelich has appeal across America.

“Postseason performance helps a lot there, and so does having a large social media following,” Longo said. “[Yelich] has been moving the needle on both fronts.”

The Premier Lacrosse League’s single-entity structure is resulting in early success in selling sponsorships because it’s turned the proposition into something of a one-stop shop for brands, according to league co-founder Paul Rabil.

The PLL starts its inaugural season in June and just rolled out its first major sponsorship deal last week with Adidas, which is now the league’s official apparel provider.

Rabil, who in addition to playing in the new league serves as chief strategy officer, said the league is positioned as an alternative for brands that are frustrated by the complexities of dealing with other stick-and-ball leagues that might have category conflicts or require multiple deals to cover the leagues, teams and venues.

The Premier Lacrosse League landed Adidas as its first major sponsor.
Photo: premier lacrosse league

The PLL has brought in about half a dozen endemic partners as well as some nonendemic partners and intends to announce them in the coming months. For its sponsorship deals, the PLL is packaging in league, team and player IP; ad inventory with media partner NBC Sports and the league’s owned channels; experiential event marketing space; and data sharing.

Rabil — who has worked as an endorser over his career for brands including New Balance, Chevrolet and Red Bull — says he’s bringing the same approach to the league that he did in his endorsement work.

“That’s why influencers have been so attractive to brands of late — they’re one-stop shops that create for the brand,” said Rabil. “[For example], we have this 13-person in-house team doing creative and producing content for our brand partners, which makes the investment more advantageous.”

The inaugural event for the six-team league will be held June 1-2 at Gillette Stadium. The league, which will be competing for market share with Major League Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League, is using a tour-based model like NASCAR or the UFC.

The PLL is working with Adidas on new jerseys and could eventually include patch sponsorships like what the NBA has incorporated in recent seasons. Rabil said the league is asking for six figures annually for jersey patch sponsorships per team, while it is asking low seven figures annually for its larger partnerships.

The PLL has a five-person team working on business development. The league also has developed relationships with some agencies — for example, CAA is an investor in the league — and will take deals that those shops bring to it.

As part of the Adidas deal, the PLL said the apparel maker will make a significant investment into the league, as will media partner NBC Sports. Adidas will provide the league’s jerseys, footwear and sideline apparel; buy ad inventory with NBC; participate in the league’s content and community efforts; and activate the partnership on site at the PLL’s games and some of Adidas’ own flagship stores. Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.