Maybe it’s because the NHL has gotten such positive feedback for its digital innovation and its work with NBC to really resurrect the sport in the last few years. Maybe it’s because the NFL has tried to expand their footprint event further into brand activation year-round, growing the Draft and offseason workouts into brand platforms. Maybe it’s any myriad of new bells and whistles that baseball or NASCAR has rolled out or the UFC has tried, or the amazing interest soccer is now getting in the States, but it seems like the NBA has really gone even further all out to enhance their global stature as the NBA Finals gets under way.
Now this is not to say that anything the NBA has done in recent years can amount to sleepy or slow. Coming off the lockout, the NBA brand seems as strong as ever, and all things basketball are moving along at a brisk pace as we head into a summer filled with a Draft, rookie leagues and an Olympics which will be replete with the anniversary of The Barcelona Dream Team.
However even with those events on the docket, the other activities the NBA has out forth…AWAY from the action on the court in Oklahoma City and Miami…are all great examples of the 24/7 push the league is making with its brand on all fronts. Some examples? The announcement of social media awards for programs, athletes and teams, a smart way not just to showcase best practices but to also create the image that NBA social media is best in class in sport. How about an expanded basketball court refurbishment plan in markets that have put away NBA hoops for the summer, including one (Newark) which won’t even have a team to call home next year, with the Nets moving to Brooklyn (although the Prudential Center is still hosting this year’s NBA Draft). Internationally, talk about an NBA-backed professional league in India has risen to the forefront of the international sports conversation helping solidify the notion that basketball continues to grow, and emerging markets are going to be key for brand success.
Those are in addition to all the talk about the passion and dedication of the people of Oklahoma City to their Thunder (a thought which probably would have given way to a lot of hand wringing just a few years ago), the widespread brand activation platforms launched by companies around the Finals through digital and traditional media, the ever-present drama around the Heat, and all the general chatter about a long-awaited Finals.
Perception, the well-founded perception that the NBA continues to be vibrant, forward-thinking and ultra-effective as a business, has become even more real than ever before, and that perception has effectively squashed all the naysayers who talked of the brand being damaged by a lockout just a few months ago.
Now maybe all of this happens in a vacuum regardless of what competition there is in the marketplace. NBA leadership is always smart about talking about their progress vs. comparisons to other sports. However it has happened is irrelevant. The bottom line is the NBA has leveraged the culmination of this sprint to the Finals in a shortened season better than many could have imagined and on more fronts than probably ever before. The business of basketball is firing on all cylinders, and subtly or overtly, the league has served notice that they are kings of the court, regardless of which team lifts the trophy in a few weeks.