The NBA has not been immune to the effects of the current challenged economy, but strong playoff match ups and captivating efforts from 2008-09 MVP LeBron James have helped drive TV numbers and spur marketing activation.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor, NYSportsJournalism.com
(Posted May 11, 2009)
The NBA could not have asked for a better first-round match up in the 2009 playoffs than the defending champion Boston Celtics against the Chicago Bulls. The seven-game series included four decided in overtime, one of which went three OTs and another that went two OTs. The triple overtime game on April 30, won by the Bulls 128-127, was shown on TNT became the most-watched first-round NBA playoff game in cable television history (5.35 million viewers). It was surpassed on May 2 when Game 7 of the series, also on TNT, was seen by 6.9 million viewers. Overall, viewership is up on TNT, ESPN and ABC, which is good news for NBA marketing partners that came into the playoffs with the task of having to stretch ad dollars and reach consumers who have become more fragmented than ever. Right Guard, T-Mobile, HP and Nike are among the companies that have broken new NBA-themed TV spots; Hollywood has been a strong partner by using the post-season to push such movies as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek and Angels and Demons; and T-Mobile, Haier, McDonald's and 2K Sports are among those to have ramped up activation online. Now, with the playoffs in full swing, the league has launched its 2009 NBA Nation tour presented by T-Mobile and Kia with support from Haier and Sprite, the latter of which is using the eight-city tour to start a campaign with NBA MVP LeBron James tied to the 2010 NBA All-Star Game slam dunk event. Mark Tatum, the NBA's evp-marketing partnerships, talked to NYSportsJournalism.com about post-season marketing and the power of LeBron James.
NYSportsJournalism.com: The NBA had good timing by starting the NBA Nation tour with the Sprite activation as LeBron James was named MVP 2009 MVP.
Mark Tatum: When you see LeBron thanking his teammates, thanking the fans, saying all the right things, it solidifies why companies want to use him in marketing campaigns. He held his MVP press conference at his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron and his family was there and the gym was packed with supporters. So if you are talking about a player who stays close to his roots and gives back to his community, and does the things that marketers would want their spokepersons to do, you certainly have that in LeBron.
NYSJ: Regarding the NBA Nation tour presented by T-Mobile and Kia Motors, which just started and runs through July, the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown is looking for streetballers to compete, not guys who are in a pro league.
Tatum: They have to be amateurs. They could have played in college but they have to be amateurs right now. As long as they are 18 and older and they can dunk, we want to see them. We are on a mission with Sprite to identify America;s best amateur dunkers. The idea grew out of the success and excitement around the Sprite Slam Dunk event at NBA All-Star Weekend. The fans love to see NBA players dunk. But we know there are some very good, talented dunkers out there who are amateurs and who are not in the NBA. So we thought it would be a good idea to go out onto the streets to go to the grassroots levels, to try to find them. We've all seen or heard about people who have done some amazing dunks. There are an infinite variety of dunks, and we only are offering a relatively short period of time for them to show their repertoire. So we are just trying to capture some of that creativity and bring it to a broader, wider audience.
NYSJ: Do you know when the event will take place during 2010 All-Star Weekend?
Tatum: We don't have an exact schedule yet but it will be before the Sprite Slam Dunk event on All-Star Saturday Night. We might do it in the Jam Session or in the Dallas Arena. Right now the NBA Nation tour is going to eight cities, so there will be one winner at each stop. One of the onsite judges will be [former NBA All-Star] Darryl Dawkins, who is the NBA Nation ambassador. And there will be two winners selected from among the videos submitted online, where one of the judges will be LeBron. It eventually will be culled down to four dunkers from those ten as voted on by fans, and those four will be invited to Dallas. The winner of that event will then be honored during the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.
NYSJ: Do you expect Dawkins to get involved by doing some of his old dunks and challenging the contestants?
Tatum: (Laughs.) I can see "Chocolate Thunder" having someone try to jump over him to dunk, like Nate Robinson did when he jumped over Dwight Howard at last year's Sprite Slam Dunk contest.
NYSJ: So as long as they don't use any accouterments that might be illegal, people can do anything in their dunks, like when Steve Nash passed the ball soccer-style off his head to Amare Stoudemire in 2005?
Tatum: What we are expecting to see is the unexpected, things we didn't know people could do and things that were not humanly possible. One of the exciting parts of our game is how fans can get involved and show how passionate they are about basketball.
NYSJ: Obviously the NBA Nation tour is timed to support the playoffs, but do partners such as Sprite, T-Mobile, Kia and Haier, which are involved with the tour, see additional ROI?
Tatum: Absolutely. The tour itself will be in several cities whose NBA teams are in the playoffs. But we also will be in New York right before the NBA draft [June 24], so this is an opportunity to stay relevant into the summer, to engage fans, to engage consumers and to bring the NBA to them. And not by coincidence the tour concludes in Dallas, site of the 2010 All-Star Game.
NYSJ: How has activation directly tied into the playoffs been going?
Tatum: All of our partners are doing some sort of activation during the playoffs and Finals. Right Guard has new creative [with Chris Paul], HP has a new spot with Kevin Garnett, Nike has new creative with LeBron and T-Mobile has a new spot with Dwyane Wade, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson and Julius Erving. There is also a lot of online activity from partners such as McDonald's, which has a playoff widget at NBA.com, and T-Mobile.
NYSJ: The All-Star Game will be at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, which can seat 100,000. What are the challenges in planning for an event that massive?
Tatum: Everything in Dallas is bigger! We have to make sure that the NBA All-Star Game is going to be he most attended live basketball game out there. It's going to be interesting. The Mavericks and the Cowboys are going to be helping. Our partners really are looking forward to activating around it. You won't see every event at the stadium. We plan to use American Airlines Center for some events, other locations in the area. We will use all of the resources that Dallas and our partners have to offer.
NYSJ: How would you appraise the current economic situation and how the NBA and its partners are handling it?
Tatum: Our fans are tuning in more than they have been before so our viewership on all our media partners is up. I believe TNT had the best first-round ratings in [cable] history, with the Boston-Chicago series going into so many close, overtime games, with LeBron and Cleveland and the Orlando Magic. Our playoff attendance is up across the league. So our partners continue to invest and continue to want to engage with fans and consumers through the NBA in various forms of media. So if there is an overall feeling of working within the economic realities of today, part of that is finding new ways to reach fans and consumers, which the NBA continues to deliver.