NBA’s CMO: A slam dunk in marketing

There’s something in the NBA that is much bigger than basketball.

The North America-based basketball league takes a global lead with 13 offices all over the globe, games available in over 215 countries in 49 different languages and 300 events organised worldwide. There are 125,000 retail locations in 100 countries around the globe that carry NBA merchandise.

Yet it is the fan base that you should really be looking at. A billion people tuned into the NBA last season, which means one out of seven people on the planet is a fan of the game. It is currently the most followed league across Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, Instagram and other social media combined with more than 1.3 billion followers, and the first league ever on SnapChat with a record of 30.1 billion impressions and 4.2 billion video views.

This season, with game 7 as the most viewed game in ABC history, generated record-breaking sales of nearly 50% more than the previous record set during the final game.

Pam El, NBA’s chief marketing officer, said they did an analysis to understand there are two common types of NBA fans: the hard core fans, as well as the casual and curious fans.

The core fans, with a scale of around 155 million people, are the fans who consume the most. They watch the games all season long, consuming content on three or more platforms multiple times a week.

The other fans who follow, like and interact with NBA are just as tech-savvy as the hardcore ones. They are all about in-the-know and getting behind the scenes, which really gets down to, more than anything else, the connection with the game.

El said technology is the NBA’s advantage when it comes to feeding fans the content they want from the league.

“Less than 1% of NBA fans actually experience the game inside an arena. It’s through technology that we interact with most of our fans on a global base,” she explained, quoting the use of NBA replay centre as one of the examples that has showcased the NBA’s rapid adoption of technology.

It’s through technology that we interact with most of our fans on a global base.

The centre, which was relaunched in 2014, “put technology at the heart of our game”, she said.

Another example is the NBA InPlay app, which allows core fans to interact with the game while the game is on TV. Those who are in a different timezone can also enjoy its NBA league pass to watch the game live on a tablet or smartphone on the go, or on social media platforms.

“It is about connecting better with our fans; to manage data that allow us deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time, on the right channel, so that we don’t overwhelm this guy with things we offer.”

Given the intensity of the game on the court, the popular players and the technology, not to mention the data at their fingertips, El said they need to build a message that reflects the league and the players, and resonates with the fans.

The league developed a worldwide campaign around the strategy, “This is why we play”, which featured video content of classic moments alongside the background story, and pushed it on social media sites.

Other videos showcased the gratefulness of the NBA players to the supporters who helped them achieve their victories.

“We are finding ways to connect emotionally to our fans everyday,” said El. “While the NBA never manufactures products, it’s always about selling the experience. It could be about the game they love or the players they respect.”

El elaborated that the way they think about talent is different, due to a changing world and changing ways of communication.

We used to hire simply writers, art directors, or people who have advertising experience; today we are hiring data scientists, research people and analytical minds.

“We used to hire simply writers, art directors, or people who have advertising experience; today we are hiring data scientists, research people, analytical minds or very data-minded people. This is the way the game and our audience is changing, and we have to make sure NBA fans can engage with the game in every way imaginable at anytime they want.”

Adobe paid for the journalist’s trip to Adobe Summit 2017, held in Las Vegas.

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