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MKTG Insights: Sponsorship of the Stars

MKTG Insights: Sponsorship of the Stars

All-Star games have always rubbed sports purists the wrong way. They don’t count against the standings, participating players show a lackluster commitment to defence and competition is anything but fierce. For marketers however, All-Star Games have long represented a unique moment in the sporting calendar to connect over shared passions – to associate one’s brand with the best of the best, and in turn be perceived as a best-in-class sponsor.

Not all professional sports leagues have mastered the art of the All-Star game though. Last weekend, the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in New York City served as a reminder of the NBA’s strength in integrating sponsors into the All-Star experience.  The NBA’s weekend-long celebration of its sport is as much about technology, fashion, music, and celebrity as it is about basketball, earning it crossover appeal and the opportunity for sponsors to activate in category-relevant ways.

All-Star Weekends in all sports are a chance for property and sponsor (incumbent and prospective) professionals to interact while the product unfolds in real-time. Properties can showcase the appeal of their game while sponsors can understand how consumers are experiencing their brand in a tangible way. After a weekend of these interactions at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, MKTG’s EVP and Chief Operating Officer Matthew Logue was published in  Media in Canada with a column outlining key strategic considerations for sponsors to consider when creating consumer experiences for the NBA’s unique fan base and culture. MKTG continues our coverage of All-Star Game sponsorship with a look at how brands can win by having a strong presence as these mid-season classics:

WHY DO SPONSORS INVEST IN ALL-STAR GAMES?

Celebrate the Fan: All-Star games that unite a sports league’s top players are a gift to fans. While programming like the Slam Dunk contest and the Celebrity All-Star game are meant to bring the NBA product to casual observers, overall, the weekend is designed as a fan celebration. Community-focused or cause-based programming typically comes to life through sustained team and league sponsorships as a way to demonstrate a commitment to consumers. One-off jewel events are largely about fan gatherings and a celebration of the league. Activation “houses” with a variety of sponsors offering consumer interactives are staples of All-Star events. This year’s “NBA House” presented by BBVA Compass was a one-stop shop for fans featuring activation zones by a number of league partners. Activities were designed for fans both old and new, including everything from alumni appearances to cutting-edge technology.

Build Equity In Endorsement Rosters: For sponsors who complement their league-level sponsorships with a roster of athlete endorsers, All-Star games are an opportunity to drive attribution for their relationship with athletes. When a sponsored athlete qualifies for an All-Star game, brands will support the berth with both overt  (congratulating an athlete) and tacit key messages. Regardless, All-Star games are a peak awareness moment for an athlete and sponsors are smart to leverage these games as activation opportunities. Under Armour leveraged the weekend to drive its association with MVP candidate Stephen Curry, including a launch event for its new Curry One shoe and the debut of a new brand sport featuring Curry and Jaime Foxx.

Amplify Season-Long Programming: All-Star Weekend is a moment when the basketball world is watching. Tier-1 NBA sponsors who invest heavily to build equity in a particular activation narrative have a natural and organic opportunity to extend their presence in a property over crown jewel events. NBA sponsor State Farm has activated their NBA partnership in the 2014-2015 season via their “National Bureau of Assists” campaign in which they parallel the neighborly assists provided by State Farm agents to the assists that NBA point guards provide on the court. The insurer extended this theme to their All-Star on-site activation through a sponsored 24-hour assist center that answered fan questions ranging from where to buy tickets to hours of operation or even getting around the city in addition to other assist-themed consumer engagement activities. There is a consumer expectation to see familiar sponsors at league events and with that comes the risk of having no presence at all.

Defend Home Court: All-Star games, like other rotating location events (ie: Olympics,  Winter Classic, etc.) invariably become not just a celebration of a sport, but a celebration of a host city. Sponsors with a large presence or employee headquarters in a hosting market . The 2015 NBA All-Star game saw national sponsors celebrate NYC. Gatorade executed a 200-team basketball tournament showcasing the importance of the sport in all of New York’s boroughs. NBA sponsor Kumho Tire activated in the culturally symbolic New York City subway lines with out-of-home advertising featuring New York Knicks local superstar Carmelo Anthony. Local partners of the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets also engaged in programming with a local-narrative. With an All-Star game in a sponsor’s backyard comes the opportunity to provide can’t buy hosting experiences to relevant stakeholders, albeit employees, clients, or other VIP.

LOOKING AHEAD TO TORONTO  2016:

2016 will be the first time the NBA All-Star Games is hosted on Canadian soil. In many respects, it will be a continuation of the introduction the rest of the league was given to Canada’s crazed basketball marketplace in last year’s Toronto Raptors playoff run. While “We The North” is the rallying cry of the Toronto Raptors, and not specifically the 2016 All-Star event, Canadians will be eager for the opportunity to show they belong in the conversation for “best fans in basketball”. Expect sponsors to activate through this narrative, capitalizing on a rare moment in Canadian basketball history to wrap themselves in the flag.

In addition to seeing 2016 NBA All-Star Game sponsors celebrate the fan, build equity in their endorsement rosters amplify season-long programming, “protecting the home turf” will undoubtedly be an important theme next year.

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