Nicknames on uniforms, fans names on the court, athletes partnering with global brands that are emerging into the US marketplace, steady, healthy brand growth outside the regions of where franchises currently are, small market success, establishing an expansion marketplace without actually having to move a team, and, having a team turn to its fans for a one-off uniform design. As training camps open this week, welcome to the happier, innovative world of the NBA.
Now this is not to say that the other major sports aren’t doing their exemplary work in so many areas. The NFL, for its offseason issues, continues to bring in new partners and look outside its borders for growth. The NHL will leverage off the Sochi Olympics to increase its international scope, while expanding its signature in-season platform (The Winter Classic) and its landmark partnership with NBC to establish itself even more with casual sports fans and its core as well. MLB leveraged the World Baseball Classic is expand its borders, continues to make cutting edge strides in the digital space and has even found its way to revive some long dormant franchises with exciting young players. Then there is MLS, and global soccer in general, that will ride a US qualifying World Cup team, some cutting edge innovation, and the continued love affair with the elite clubs of the world to push a more savvy and robust soccer offering on all platforms.
Still with all that success, it just seems like the NBA is finding new ways to push the brand limits, ramp up its competitive edge in the market, and find effective ways to leverage all thing basketball. The last few months have seen areas that were always hallowed ground…uniform names and logos, the pristine look around every court, even the mix of more personality into apparel…lighten up and become fair ground for innovation and just a little more buzz. The NFL will always protect its shield and its uniform looks with very little individual change as to how players look on court. The NBA? Let’s try something different. Brands from China and the Middle East look to leverage NBA players like Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, along with their on national stars now playing in North America, much more than happens with American players from other sports. Their personality just seems to transcend the boundaries better on both sides of the ocean. While the NFL again takes football to the UK more aggressively and consistently, the NBA is taking teams to play games around the globe this fall, with no thoughts of slowing down, and not only will play amongst other NBA teams, they will again match up against elite local clubs to showcase how far the game has gone. That is something only soccer and hockey could possibly do effectively, which is a testament again to the ability of hoops to show its strongest brand face in real time around the globe.
While the Miami Dolphins have tried the minority celebrity owner stake, and the Seattle Sounders have made the most with people like Joe Roth and Drew Carey at the helm, the NBA has continually found ways to ingrain urban culture, and its leaders, into positions of authority on the brand side. Jay-Z’s influence with the Nets, and now Drake’s shot at helping rev up the Toronto Raptors are great examples not of lips service or flash bulb brand investment, they are great examples of a dedicated push not just to have the name, but to have these tastemakers be involved in the creative process. It is buzz worthy and if successful, can help re-invigorate a franchise. Now that’s not to say the NBA, like any mature brand, does not have its warts.
However like any mature, successful brand the NBA is evolving again, and taking down some barriers to say “What If?” when it comes to creative license and fan involvement, as the league transitions from David Stern to Adam Silver at the helm. It’s also not to say that the NBA is going to risk soiling its brand with inconsistent messaging, design and branding, there is too much equity built into the multi-billion dollar business.
What is does say is the NBA, maybe more than its other counterparts, is willing now to take a little more risk and try some groundbreaking efforts more than in the past, to both stay relevant and to expand its reach with new audiences. With healthy teams in major markets, a diverse mix of stars, even a rising new crop of coaches to promote, it should be a winter of fun hoops, made even more so with some of the tight brand reins pulled back just a bit, for all things brand basketball.