By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
October 28, 2013
Days away from the NBA regular season tipping off, it’s already clear what the recurring central storyline will be: whether or not league MVP LeBron James opts out of his contract to become a free agent.
A lot of that could depend on if the Miami Heat win a third consecutive NBA title this season. In any event, next year’s Miami team could look much different from the current one, especially because of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement that will heavily fine repeat salary cap violators.
If the Heat is the topic getting the most attention, the most underrated storylines are the NBA’s ongoing globalization strategy and its heads-above sophistication in marketing itself via social media compared to other pro sports leagues.
On the global front, NBA-licensed products are marketed and sold in 100 countries, and the league this season will stage more than 125 international events in 67 cities and 27 countries outside the U.S. as part of its “Global Games” initiative.
To help market the Global Games, the NBA has launched its first-ever marketing campaign geared towards international fans titled, “One Game One Love.” The campaign, comprising a series of six TV commercials, print and online advertisements, and integration in NBA international events, debuted for international fans in each of the eight cities across five continents hosting games as part of NBA Global Games that began early this month in Istanbul.
“One Game One Love” will also be integrated into the NBA’s international events, which include two regular-season games in London and Mexico City, NBA 3X, the league’s global grassroots event, and Basketball without Borders, the global basketball development program run in partnership with FIBA (International Basketball Federation) that uses sport to create positive social change.
In China, where NBA viewership grew 30% last year, and revenue topped $150 million, the league and Yao Ming last week announced a partnership to open the first-ever NBA Yao School in Beijing. Ahead of a Warriors-Lakers exhibition game in Shanghai last Friday, outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern shared that the experience in China "has been great." "The fans are passionate,” he said. “The coverage is terrific, the social media is buzzing." With so much going on overseas, it’s no wonder outgoing Stern counts the league’s globalization work as one of his chief accomplishments during his 30-year tenure.
All told, the NBA will host more than 125 events in 67 cities and 27 countries in 2013. NBA games and programs are televised to a worldwide audience in 215 countries and in more than 40 languages. Perhaps more crucial in today’s environment, the league has built one of the largest social media communities in the world, with more than 455 million likes and followers worldwide for league, teams, and players.
When the NBA first started working with Twitter in 2009, the league mainly used the social media platform as a way to get fans to tune in to close games. Four years and millions of Twitter followers later, that mindset has changed dramatically. Now, Twitter is “also about telling players’ stories,” NBA Senior VP of Marketing Melissa Brenner told SportsBusiness Journal. And NBA players are on board in a big way. Leading the NBA in number of Twitter followers is league MVP James, with close to 10 million. The NBA itself counts 8.4 million followers, and close behind it are retired MVP/now media personality Shaquille O’Neal (7.7 million), Kevin Durant (4.9 million), and Dwight Howard (4.5 million).
Twitter’s recent deal with Nielsen to create a social media-influenced set of TV ratings also attempts to prove that Twitter can improve the core business of television. Boosting Twitter’s claim is an August Nielsen study showing that 29% of 221 broadcast shows—across all genres, including sports—saw a significant ratings lift from heightened Twitter activity.
For the NBA and other leagues, agreements like last month’s eight-figure NFL-Twitter deal aren’t yet focused on content and rights fees. They still view Twitter mainly as a marketing platform. But they also realize that services like Twitter’s Amplify advertising platform will eventually help them figure out how to generate meaningful revenue through social media.
Next week, we’ll take a look at innovative marketing and business strategies NBA franchises and high-profile players are implementing as the 2013-2014 season gets underway.