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Volume 23 No. 18
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Tony’s Take: NBA sponsorship

Tony Ponturo is executive vice president of strategy for Turnkey Intelligence. He oversaw Anheuser-Busch’s marketing, media and sponsorship from 1991 to 2008.

Returning sponsors Gatorade, Budweiser and Bud Light continue to have strong sponsorship awareness year over year, as they don’t take anything for granted and work hard to create activation programs that resonate.

Two new invitees to the party, AT&T and MGM, fared extremely well.

AT&T fully integrated its programs across the NBA, WNBA, G League, NBA 2K and USA Basketball. The brand’s awareness and tech innovation with NBA 2K, bringing mobility relevancy to the next generation of fans, resonated well with younger fans.

MGM is a shiny new logo, boosted by the anticipation of sports gambling giving wind to its sails. I am looking forward to seeing how this partnership grows next year.

It can be aggressive to be critical of a sponsor’s strategy — particularly without knowing their full intent — but one must wonder if the practice of using an individual athlete is the right way to go in today’s NBA environment. Take Mountain Dew, for example, which uses Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid across its campaigns. Even though the NBA and its stars see tremendous national and global attention, sports are still local. Many players, including those two, are revered in their home market but often disliked elsewhere.

While the juxtaposition between how fans view a player differently from one market to the next is part of what makes sports fun, it also can present a unique challenge to advertisers. Sponsors must remember that players can start their career with the right image but, over time, that image can evolve and create polarization. If not tended to appropriately, this can hurt your efforts to build connections with consumers.

Last, Kaiser Permanente has local connections to the Golden State Warriors, and its heavy investment in the Bay Area makes sense, but it may want to rethink whether a national investment has merit and relevancy.