Generally speaking, integrated advertising is the most effective way for any brand to live within a piece of content. Regardless of what the content may be, integrated advertising is a way for advertisers to instill their brand within an audience's experience of any piece of content.
We began our series of "integrated advertising in sports" posts by reviewing the 2017 World Series, which included a number of very innovative advertisements from brands like T-Mobile, Duracell, and more. More recently, we wrote about hockey, the NHL, and how they've evolved from blank boards to virtual ad overlays.
Today, we're going to keep the ball rolling, and dive into integrated advertising in basketball, notably the NBA.
The NBA has become known for having a more youthful audience than any of other major American sports league. Since Adam Silver took over as the league's Commissioner in 2014, the NBA has had a very open and direct acknowledgement of their efforts to be more progressive and tech-driven.
Prior to that, however, the league remained fairly traditional in terms of their broadcast and in-game advertising practices.
The 2017 World Series was perhaps the best example we've seen of a professional sports league leaving tradition in the past - interesting, as baseball is the game that seems to thrive on tradition more than any other.
The ads present in last year's World Series showed a true effort and diversion from what viewers are used to seeing.
The NHL's many innovations have been impressive, but are more so extensions of things that already existed (example: virtual overlay ads on the boards).
The NBA has shown their own unique strides to best incorporate ads into their product, and leave tradition in the rear-view.
Despite being one of the most consistently fast-paced sports to watch, the NBA still has a lot of traditional downtime via advertising. This year, however, Commissioner Adam Silver made a couple of notable strides towards better ad integration and viewer experience.
The first was to restructure the game itself. The league introduced a new timeout structure, leaving teams with less timeouts to use, resulting in less commercial breaks for advertisers.
The second stride came as a way for NBA teams to still drive revenue, even with less commercial breaks - they added advertisements to team jerseys.
Jersey Patch Ads
The discussion surrounding jersey ads has lingered for a while now, and not just in the NBA.
We've seen jersey ads, most notably, in professional soccer leagues around the world (for example, the Premier League) and in the WNBA:
For some time, however, none of the four major American sports leagues seemed to want to jump on the opportunity.
Soon enough, the NBA decided to break away from the pack and endorse the long-discussed jersey advertisement. They introduced it as a three-year test run - something that's not guaranteed for the future of the sport.
Above, is the New York Knicks 2018 White Nike Swingman jersey. Now, aside from the Nike Swoosh, which is, in itself, an advertisement (more on that later), notice the Squarespace logo in the upper corner of the jersey.
When the league first announced jersey patch ads, it was not to much delight from fans.
Upon seeing the ads, however, it became clear that there was much attention paid to integrating the brand logos into the color schemes of each team to make them less noticeable, even native to the surrounding branding.
While Squarespace's logo is actually not blue, they display their logo in the Knicks' blue, with a white background. Most other teams do the same. The idea of players being "running billboards" seems to dissipate upon seeing how well the ads blend in.
Here are a few more examples, by way of the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics, and their sponsors, StubHub and General Electric:
The logos blend in fairly well. While they are certainly noticeable, they are not disruptive to their surroundings. You still feel like you're looking at a 76ers/Celtics jersey.
Of course, there are a few outliers...
Is it me or does that Buck look awfully angry?
Overall, however, these ads generally work well with team branding. More so, they provide another legitimate source of revenue for NBA teams. While there are no set prices for this inventory, the most lucrative deal for any team thus far has been the Golden State Warriors' sponsorship agreement with Rakuten, a deal worth $60 million over three years. That price, or any other, grants a 2.5 inch by 2.5 inch space for any brand to fill with their logo.
In the end, if you were to think of a New York Knicks jersey as a piece of content, these brand logo ads are fairly well integrated, while still generating revenue.
All-Stars and All-Sponsors
Typically, jersey ads and things of that nature are test-run in international and exhibition matches, regardless of the sport.
The most notable yearly exhibition in the NBA is its annual All-Star Game. The All-Star Game is a perfect example in looking at the NBA's high-level inclusion of sponsorships during game broadcasts.
Here's a list of some of the events that took place over the course of this year's All-Star Weekend:
● NBA All-Star Celebrity Game presented by Ruffles
● Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Game
● NBA G(atorade)-League International Challenge presented by Kumho Tire
● State Farm All-Star Saturday Night
We should also note that the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night consisted of the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the JBL Three-Point Contest, and the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.
If you're counting, that's eight sponsors to present three nights worth of events, not to mention the smaller, more minor inclusions throughout the weekend.
While this has been done for some time now, it's an important fact when considering the NBA's efforts to minimize commercial breaks.
The deeper fact here is that sponsorships come in many forms in the NBA. Jersey ads are the most recent, and currently the most talked about form of sponsorship, but there are a number of other in-game sponsorships.
Earlier, we touched on Nike's appearance on NBA jerseys. While not every team has a sponsoring brand advertisement on their jersey, they do all have a Nike Swoosh.
That's because Nike is currently the exclusive maker of NBA uniforms, all the way down to the socks that each player wears. This includes all sweatbands, headbands, and sleeves a player may wear.
The only piece of attire that a player gets to choose are their shoes, since shoe companies sponsor individual players, not teams. So, while Kyrie Irving is, in fact, sponsored by Nike Shoes, you can see all the other Swooshes present when he steps on the court, as well.
There are a lot of working parts during any basketball game aside from the players, as well, including the many tools, technologies, and people that maintain the court's functionality.
One of the most important technologies present during NBA and NCAA Basketball games is the Shot Clock - a long-time means of speeding up the play during games.
Another interesting sponsorship unique to the NBA is their partnership with Tissot, the brand that, just a few years ago, made a new-styled Shot Clock for all NBA arenas:
It's transparent, houses touch-screen controls, and of course displays a large Tissot logo for all to see. No other sport uses a Shot Clock as the NBA does, therefore no one else can utilize this ad space.
Old Spice also found a way to get an advertisement into the working functionality of basketball games. And even though this one has been taking place during college games, it was simply too fun to leave out.
During NCAA and NBA games, there are floor-cleaners that rush onto the floor during downtime, to mop, clean and dry the floor.
Old Spice saw this is an opportunity, thus introducing us to the "Sweat Mop Boys."
Instead of just regular old mops, these "mop boys" use what looks to be a stick of deodarant, to rid the floor of sweat, and figuratively deodorize the hardwood.
It remains to be seen whether we'll ever see something like this in the NBA, but it was certainly a noticeable and creative way to capitalize on in-game, in-arena downtime - something we have seen in the NBA.
The War on the Floor
The NBA has put in a great effort to be the most progressive, tech-driven league there is. As we mentioned earlier, that's in large part due to their youthful audience. That effort is most evident in the experience they offer fans, ads or no ads. A good example of this being the NBA's recent endorsement of virtual reality.
The league currently offers subscription packages to viewers that include the ability to watch games in VR. We've yet to see them experiment with advertising within the space, but it's still a notable endorsement.
In terms of ads, however, one of the most innovative things we've seen the NBA do is use arena floor space as a video ad landscape.
On February 10, 2018, the Golden State Warriors played the San Antonio Spurs in their home, Oracle Arena. At halftime, the fans were treated to what was called, "The War on the Floor," where they used the court as a projector for a God of War video ad:
At first, the video plays on the Jumbotron, which is nothing out of the ordinary. Soon after, however, the entire court lights up with a snowy, icy, action-packed narrative.
After the video concluded, the crowd applauded... When was the last time you clapped after a television commercial?
This is extremely important for broadcast's sake. Even though these videos cannot be played during live-game action, they can be used to reach viewers streaming live games.
Streaming service NBA League Pass, for example, allows viewers to stay inside the arena during broadcasts. There are breaks, but simply no commercials. Viewers instead watch halftime shows, timeout breaks, t-shirt tosses, and so on.
The only ads they may see are the ones present within the environment itself - like on jerseys, on shot clocks, and, in this case, on the floor during halftime.
Overall, the NBA has done a fine job in living up to their tech-driven reputation, and with time, can prove to only become better.