Part Two: The National Basketball Association (NBA)
In Part One of my look at the presence of natural social networks in sports, I looked at social media's impact on professional soccer. In this part, I'll look at the National Basketball Association.
Let's start by taking a look at the top corporate brands on Facebook:
At first glance, it appears that one of the most effective tactics utilizing social media is providing promotional privileges for fans to get their pick-me-up. Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Red Bull are all in the top five. What can brands in other industries learn from the natural social networks formed by sports?
The NBA, at #9 on the list, is actually ranked 1st in “Page Value” by the same site. Its success in the social media space is likely driven by its success across the globe, with a powerful fan nation both online and off.
For over three decades the league has been expanding internationally with marketing programs growing the game in over 240 different countries.
The international growth demonstrates the sport’s ability to translate across culture, gender, and level of play. In an interview with Emilio Collins, the Senior VP of Global Marketing Partnerships for NBA Entertainment, he explains how the nature of the game facilitates social inclusion. “The game can be played a variety of ways, 1 on 1, indoors or outdoors, male or female.”
Participation fueled the craving for content, which proved profitable for the NBA. In fact, Collins cites content distribution as the NBA’s number one source of international revenue. 150 different broadcast partners and numerous highlight shows provide fans their daily fix of the league’s core attributes: passion, teamwork, intensity, history of the franchises, and tradition of the league. Combined, this is the caffeine equivalent to sports fans.
Most importantly, the league has maintained its brand identity throughout its development. Collins states this simply, “Basketball is the NBA. One entity, one brand associated with the sport.” The sweat, tears, and slam dunks all make up the National Basketball Association, and the fan nation follows religiously.
So what can other brands learn from the NBA? “Make your consumers as passionate about your brand as you are,” suggests Collins. Find those defining attributes that make you brand stand out, and offer a powerful identity to encapsulate those attributes.
For example, take the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, cited as the turning point in the NBA’s international growth by Collins. This is when the world met the Dream Team, setting the stage for the perfect storm of sport, strategy, and brand. “Kids got to see how inspirational the sport can be, and they saw the domination of our players. And as a result, we saw all points of our business grow—the distribution of media, participation rates, and the increase of international players,” said Collins. In effect, the NBA only had 17 international players in 1992. Now they have 85.
Regardless of industry, businesses can learn a great deal from the NBA’s success. More companies need to find passion in their product or service offering and package this into one voice, one brand. Once established, this brand should serve as Team Captain to employees, fans, and followers, directing the entire team down a path to victory.
Just as athletes communicate during the game to adjust the game plan on the fly, utilize social media to listen to your consumers and respond with innovative marketing strategies. Finally, commit… to your team, to your fans, and to the game plan. The NBA has done just this, and fans and teams alike are enjoying its success.