The NBA has built their full slate of Christmas Day games into a marketing bonanza in recent years. Teams wear custom jerseys unveiled weeks before and available for purchase, brands use the four game platform to ramp up their new advertising campaigns for the first quarter. The film industry packs in promotions for their latest releases and this community initiatives are unveiled (with players and celebrities and gun violence in particular) to a largely captive audience using the TV as the background noise with dinner on going, friends stopping over and packages being exchanged. Starting at noon eastern, it is almost a 12 hour unchallenged commercial that really launches the league for engagement well into the spring. Fans and families tune in and out, but the platform, across ESPN and ABC, is there for all to see.
The games are carefully selected as best they can be when the NBA schedule is announced in the summer, and this year the league got an even bigger boost when the rampaging Warriors got to host the Cavaliers, always a draw with LeBron James and company, smack in the middle of their daytime offering, as well as Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour to wrap up the day. The day was also driven by stars vs. market size, as you did not have New York, Boston, Philly or even Dallas on the schedule. Oklahoma City and New Orleans, with their young and marketable stars, did make the cut, further showing how much personality can play to a big stage, vs. years past when JUST market size carried the day.
The NBA on Christmas is certainly not new, it has been going on for over 40 years, but owning the day for a 12 hour window, unchallenged (except for some college hoops from Hawaii and the “Christmas Story” marathon on Turner) has turned the day into a marketing juggernaut for the league, its initiatives, its players’ brands and its partners.
It is with all that in mind that my brother-in-law Michael posed an interesting question at Sunday dinner. What happens when Christmas falls on a day when another marketing juggernaut, the NFL, owns? Where will fans go, especially with playoff implications on the line, and how will that effect the NBA’s touch to aggregate eyeballs on launch campaigns on a day they have effectively owned for several years now? Because of leap year, that mix will happen in 2016.
We have seen the NFL own Thanksgiving for decades, and turn that day, now with three games, into its own 12 hour brand activation platform just as the holiday sales season begins. It is to the point now where the NBA, which used to have a smattering of games on that day, takes the day off all together. With the NFL window now extended into January for the regular season, marketers and broadcast partners should be quite enthusiastic about having their regular schedule, with its Sunday Night Primetime game and flex scheduling, fall on a massive holiday for the first time in several years. Four years ago the NFL moved its schedule to Saturday and avoided the Christmas Day mix. However the landscape has changed drastically in the last few years, especially for media companies looking to aggregate viewers, and for leagues looking to create more diverse product offerings for fans to buy.
Could we see a compromise Christmas Day offering of hoops and football in 2016, with NBA games leading to an NFL Sunday night play? The NFL did play San Diego and Oakland on Christmas Eve this year (it was the NFL Network/CBS Thursday night offering), and Saturday’s are not out of the cards later in the NFL season, with college football’s big numbers gone as Bowl season kicks in, but will the NFL again take the holiday off, and defer to hoops. Could Nike be the driver for the two sports, using the day not just for NBA unveils of uniforms, but for NFL ones as well (maybe a day of Day-Glo again?). Christmas Day, like Thanksgiving, has become a captive day for traditional viewing, and the NBA and NFL have taken advantage of the platform individually. Now that the NBA will fall on the NFL’s day, will we see a challenge, a shift or a compromise that could be best for all?
Neither league, or its broadcast partners, have looked that far ahead publicly yet (although schedule plans are never out of the thoughts of league officials for years in advance), but rest assured Christmas 2016, could end up being an interesting gift for NFL, and NBA fans , as the marketing and exposure reaches new heights and all try to grab the bigger share at the busiest time of year for all.