NBA Tips Off Atop U.S. Sports Landscape

October 16, 2018

The 2018-19 NBA season tips off today with no shortage of excitement and enthusiasm – from both fans and marketers.

Beyond the buzz about Lebron in LA, interest regarding whether the Warriors can continue their dominance, intrigue around the Sixers taking the next step, and curiosity about who will emerge as the next group of young stars in the league, the 2018-19 season commences with the NBA enjoying some incredible storylines and momentum. Here’s why:

Stuffing the stat sheet:
The league is coming off its highest regular season TV ratings in four years, which is the opposite trend of “competitors” such as the NFL and MLB. NBA TV ratings last season were up across all four networks, as well in key demographics (18-43 demo was +14 percent; 18-49 demo was +15 percent), representing hard to ignore—not that sponsors or advertisers would want to—velocity.

Attracting top rookie talent:
There is an analogy in North American sports that the bigger the ball, the younger the audience and the NBA is reflecting this axiom. The median age for NBA fans is 42; while NFL fans are 50 and MLB is 57. This is a powerful asset that the NBA offers to advertisers and sponsors who are constantly seeking the highly desirable young adult demographic.

Great ball movement:
The NBA is also the most international and diverse sport, with a reach second only to soccer. In the 2017-18 season there were 108 international players from 42 countries on NBA rosters. And the NBA has done a masterful job exporting the product around the world, going beyond just staging games overseas and a consistent presence in the Olympics to striking distribution deals with partners such as Facebook, YouTube and Tencent to deliver games and content to international audiences.

Courtside seats:
We live in a (all) star-driven world and the NBA has embraced this, unlike a certain other sports league that is regularly in the news for player protests and general unrest. From encouraging their players to showcase their personalities and interests on social media to not only addressing but supporting their players on social issues, the NBA has been very clear in its POV that the players are the product and the importance of creating an environment where fans can relate and connect with them is paramount to success and growth.

Unselfish play:
Its broad-based, best-in-class, community outreach initiative, NBA Cares, supports a wide range of programs, partners and initiatives that strive to positively impact children and families worldwide. And, while global in reach, it generates a deep impact in scores of local communities as a result of team and player-led and sponsor-driven programming.

Back-to-back layups:
Finally, the NBA has positioned itself at the forefront of two of the biggest game-changers in sports: legalized gambling and the emergence of esports.

Legalized Gambling:
Because of its global view, the NBA and its leadership have been very open-minded about gambling and have not just voiced support, but demonstrated a leadership position related to how regulated gambling can be both a revenue generator and significant driver of fan engagement. Just as the NBA has been the first of the big four North American sports leagues to embrace on-jersey advertising, expect them to be at the forefront of a significant betting strategy.

Esports:
The NBA has also taken a big leap into esports, launching the NBA 2K League this past season with 17 teams, which will expand to 21 by 2019. A goal of this strategy is certainly to leverage a virtuous circle of engagement, giving existing fans another content platform to consume, while also attracting a new audience to their league, all the while creating additional marketing opportunities for brands and sponsors. And, while the property experienced some growing pains right out of the gate, it gained notable momentum in attracting viewers on the Twitch platform as the season progressed.

The NBA is continuing to live up to its reputation as a progressive league willing to address new ways to present and market the game. From leading the industry’s support of legalized gambling and putting ads on jerseys to embracing technology, social issues and identifying new, interactive ways to watch the game in the arena or at home—the NBA embraces change and, as a result, positions itself for growth while staying exciting, engaging and relevant to its audience.

Shawn McBride, EVP of Sports for Ketchum, has almost 20 years of experience helping brands leverage their investments in sports, as well as working on behalf of global sports properties.