When the NBA first announced they would go the patch route, there was a lot of speculation over the who and the what and the how on the program. Added value to big partners? Brands buying in on multiple teams? Maybe one national sponsor? Would anyone take the bait and at what price?
As we near the start of the NBA season, the path is a bit clearer with 17 teams now on board, but a quick look at the who has probably surprised many folks who probably didn’t see the patch programs as a way for new, innovative and somewhat disruptive brands to crack the team sponsorship side. What the patch program has turned into is extra revenue and some new faces on the sponsorship landscape. Even the traditional names have taken a unique path to the patch.
For every GE there is a Qualtrics; for every Disney there is a Squarespace; for every Harley Davidson there is a Shakecare; for every Stubhub there is an Infor; for every Blue Diamond there is a Wish or a Fitbit. And then there is Rakuten, who has already parlayed their Golden State Warriors patch into a bigger deal this week with the NBA, tying back to Japan.
While each brand has their reasons; b to b tech companies, not for profits, consumer facing challenger brands looking to engage in sports and play off of the NBA team association, companies looking to serve not so subtle reminders to those in the stands and watching on media platforms that they are first class associations with hoops; the growing, consistent narrative is the patch at whatever price is an entrée to associate with global athletes and global business partners. It is a somewhat subtle and very unique way to get not just traditional exposure, which will be measured, but nontraditional seats at the basketball business table which maybe can’t be measured in impressions.
The patch will get TV time, but it may also fly by in a second, and if it’s not supported in the case of consumer brands by ancillary marketing, people may say what? Or who? The value is in what is being said, and who is meeting who, in the bunker suites and the boardrooms, in the promotions and in the community; it is the notion that we found a way on to the team, and we have a story to tell that may be unique, just like the unique and still fresh patch program is.
For the teams, always scrambling to find new elements to sell and new brands to market to, it is a welcomed budget line that wasn’t there before. It created new conversations and very unique new opportunities, ones which the other leagues, especially the NFL and the NHL, who have allowed practice jersey patches but have not gone the NBA route yet, will be watching and probably admiring, pretty closely. The same goes for colleges, who have been a bit more liberal in their school-specific noncommercial patch programs, but outside of a Bowl sponsor or an apparel brand, have been pretty tight on revenue generating exposure on the valuable jersey real estate.
Granted the NBA program is still working itself through and probably the more traditional sports partners didn’t see the need for the ancillary patch exposure, which opened up a door for some new faces to walk through (Rakuten being the most expansive this far). Measurement will be interesting to see as year one unfolds, but it is that immeasurable bump which is really what’s being bandied about as the true value, and how that will play out is really what should be watched as opening night approaches.
Is the new NBA offering just a patchwork of companies scrambling for traditional exposure? Not at all. It’s a smart, viable and unique offering which isn’t going away, and will probably be on the ice and the gridiron, and maybe the diamond (minor leagues first?) before too long.