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NBA’s restart options present ‘exciting’ opportunity for sponsors, says marketer

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against the Brooklyn Nets on March 10, 2020 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

A leading agency marketer expects National Basketball Association sponsors to get behind innovative plans to resume the season at one or more central venues later this year.

Kevin McNulty, president and chief marketing officer of Momentum Worldwide, told SportBusiness that an NBA resumption around two venues in particular – the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in Nevada – would present exciting opportunities for brands.

The two venues have been mooted in recent talks between the NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the National Basketball Players Association, with a final decision likely to be made by early June, according to US press reports.

McNulty said: “One of the first terms of the pandemic was this concept of a ‘new normal’ without anyone really knowing what that would look like. Now we are seeing plans come together for a return that will be very different than just two-plus months ago – empty arenas, neutral sites, fans restricted to watching and supporting their teams from a distance.

“Due to restrictions on travel, there is talk of the NBA choosing two neutral locations to host the balance of the season. Imagine Disney in Orlando and the MGM in Las Vegas hosting West and East teams respectively…given that Disney owns the rights to NBA broadcasts (via ESPN) and MGM is the NBA’s main betting partner, this makes sense for both league and sponsors alike.”

The NBA would also need to construct a revised playoff schedule for its reconstituted season, much like the National Hockey League and NHL Players Association are currently doing.

He noted: “Imagine it culminating in an East versus West tournament with the excitement of a March Madness, wrapped by gaming, fantasy and betting. It would make for a very different, but compelling experience. As a fan, it’s exciting, as a marketer, it’s stimulating.”

McNulty said that while some industries that traditionally have been prominent spenders within pro sports are now severely impacted by the pandemic, such as automotive and airlines, opportunities exist for some other brands as the NBA restarts.

He continued: “Sponsors can play a central role forming new connections with fans and delivering new ways to consume the NBA. From a pure business perspective, brands are eager to get back to selling their products and services, and if they can do that while delivering an enhanced NBA experience, that’s a huge business opportunity.

“Brands we work with like Microsoft, Verizon and SAP are well-positioned to play an enabling role with the NBA as it redefines how the league delivers its viewing experience.”

Among the specific opportunities perhaps to emerge will be new entitlements tied to elements of expanded at-home viewing.

McNulty said: “For example, does this accelerate the application of AI in the viewing experience and with Microsoft Azure as the enabler of that fan-enhanced experience? What a great way for that sponsor to demystify its technology to the masses.

“As a fan I welcome brands bringing back the sports I love if they can add real value and enhance the experience.”

Should the NBA sanction a return to competitive action, Silver said earlier this month he believes three to six weeks of training camp would be required before games could begin at a neutral venue or venues.

The NBA is hopeful of starting training in June and restarting the season in mid-July. Silver said the goal is to play full seven-game series in the playoffs.

The NBA season was suspended 11 March after Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19.