By Barry Janoff
October 6, 2013: People in Los Angeles and NBA fans elsewhere may not have liked the fact that all-star center Dwight Howard left the Lakers to join the Houston Rockets. But the Rockets certainly are making the most of it in marketing and ticket sales.
The newest company to join the Rockets' 2013-14 bandwagon is smartphone provider ZTE USA, a division of China-based ZTE Corp.
The alliance, the first of its kind for the company, names ZTE as the official smartphone of the Rockets for the upcoming season.
According to ZTE USA, which is based in Richardson, Texas, "Houston is an important market for [us]. It is one of the top wireless markets in the country and many of ZTE’s carrier partners have large presences there, including AT&T, Aio Wireless, T-Mobile, MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, US Cellular, Cricket Wireless and Tracfone."
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
ZTE USA said it would be lunching two smartphones – the ZTE Grand S and the ZTE nubia 5 – and planned to take advantage in marketing and in-arena activation with a Houston roster that includes Howard, James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons.
Rockets marketing partners also include Toyota (which also has naming rights to the team's home venue Toyota Center), Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), United Airlines, McDonald's and Comcast's Xfinity.
Thanks to the arrival of Howard, and the presence of head coach Kevin McHale, Lin, Harden and the others, Rockets management is optimistic about the coming season.
“We’re further ahead in our sales process at this time than we ever have been,” CEO Tad Brown told the media during a recent workout session. “The season-ticket base is up 34%. We are close to being sold out of season tickets. And we are pretty confident with the excitement that this team has already created in the market that we’ll be sold out of every game.”
Under the terms of the agreement, ZTE said it would receive corporate sponsor status, including use of Rockets marketing rights, TV-visible branded signage, hospitality, giveaways and promotions through branded kiosks at Toyota Center and in-game activations.
ZTE, which unveiled the partnership as presenting of the Rockets' pre-season opener on Saturday (Oct. 5), said it would also be the presenting sponsor of the Rockets' annual street-ball three-on-three Blacktop Battle and would participate in the Season of Giving community program.
ZTE said it provides its technology to more than 500 carriers and operators in more than 160 countries
The Rockets said they each more than 325 million people worldwide via more than 30 different networks. The team has a large and growing fan-base in China thanks in big part to former all-star center and current team spokesperson Yao Ming, a naitve of Shanhai.
Howard's primary marketing partner, adidas, sponsored a D Howard Tour of Asia in August to coincide with the launch of Howard's signature D Howard 4 shoe (pictured). The trip included three stops in China (Beijing, Chengdu and Hangzhou) as well as Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.
"ZTE and the Rockets are both global brands bringing powerful lineups to excite both sports and tech enthusiasts across the country."
Howard had the seventh best-selling jersey in the world last season, according to the NBA and adidas, the league's official outfitter, when he was still with the Lakers. The Rockets are hoping that Howard's new jersey will attract even more fans this season.
The fact that Lin is of Asian descent (Taiwan) is also helping to bolster the Rockets' international connection.
“The Houston Rockets are a perfect match for ZTE’s first corporate sponsorship in the U.S. ZTE and the Rockets are both global brands bringing powerful lineups to excite both sports and tech enthusiasts across the country,” Lixin Cheng, chairman and CEO for ZTE USA, said in a statement. “Houston, and the U.S. at large, is a key market for ZTE going forward, building on our already 15-year track record of bringing robust yet affordable technology to U.S. carriers and consumers alike.”
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