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Microsoft’s NBA deal puts tech giant among the league’s highest-paying sponsors  

(Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

The NBA’s multi-year sponsorship deal with Microsoft, signed in April, places the technology giant among the highest-spending brands on the NBA’s roster.

SportBusiness understands from industry sources the deal is worth about $25m (€22.2m) per year, starting from the 2020-21 season, and puts Microsoft in the top five NBA sponsors by pure marketing rights spend.

Under the deal, Microsoft takes up a completely new category – as the official artificial intelligence partner – for the NBA, Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), NBA G League, and USA Basketball, as well as roles as official cloud and laptop partner.

In terms of Microsoft’s cloud capability, SportBusiness understands the league will use the Microsoft Azure cloud computing service, having previously used multiple providers for various projects across the league, including Azure rival AWS.

Microsoft’s activation rights include ‘entitlement partner’ of the NBA Draft Combine and ‘associate partner’ of marquee events including the NBA and WNBA All-Star games and the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League.

The companies will also explore additional ways technology can be used to enhance the NBA’s business and game operations.

New platforms

Azure will act as the platform to broadcast live and on-demand basketball games, with personalised content, on the NBA’s digital channels. NBA Digital assets include NBA TV, NBA.com, the NBA App and NBA League Pass.

Dan Rossomondo, NBA senior vice-president, global media and business development, told SportBusiness the deal is important to the NBA because fan “user experience expectations and consumption patterns are rapidly changing”.

“Microsoft will help us redefine the way our fans around the world experience NBA basketball – by innovating the live game experience and integrating various elements of NBA fandom in a seamless way,” he said.

Rossomondo explained how Microsoft and NBA Digital will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance the service.

“We are working with Microsoft to create a new direct-to-consumer platform that will deliver next-generation game telecasts – which will include real-time statistical overlays, alternative audio and video, fantasy and gaming elements and other content offerings that are personalised to meet the needs of every NBA fan.

“The NBA’s next-generation fan experience will learn from what each fan likes and present optimised content over time. We want to make it easier for fans to stay connected with the NBA through ‘catch me up’ features that give fans the opportunity to see intelligent playlists of the most important, recent developments from their favourite teams and player, as well as options to shop for merchandise and engage on social media all on one platform.”

Tech brands have multiplied across the NBA roster over the last decade. Rossomondo said there are three main reasons for the trend.

  • The NBA has a young, diverse fan base and one of the largest social media communities in the world, with 1.8 billion followers across all league, team and player platforms.
  • The NBA wants to partner with leading technology companies, such as Microsoft, that can help it personalise the fan experience.
  • The NBA believes it is important to align with brands that have shared values, “where we can identify a real business opportunity and upside for everyone – rather than just identifying certain industries or categories to fill”.

SportBusiness understands from a brand-side source that NBA sales pitches to tech brands often focus on finding solutions to specific operational problems. The sponsors thereby derive value from their association with enhancements to the NBA product.

Microsoft declined to comment on the NBA deal when approached by SportBusiness.