Marketing Players of the Week – NBA Tip-Off Edition

Tipping off this past Tuesday, the 2014-15 NBA season represents a year of many compelling storylines. Rookie phenoms Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker kick off their pro careers amidst massive expectations. Anthony Davis (and his trademark unibrow) looks to break out and become a household name, while Derrick Rose returns from injury to bring the Bulls back to title contention. And a player by the name of LeBron James returns to his quiet home of Cleveland, Ohio.

Nike

Since day one when he signed an endorsement deal with Nike for $90 million while still in high school, LeBron James has been a perfect fit for the Beaverton-based sportswear giant. According to Forbes, LeBron’s brand is worth $10 million more than last year and he has replaced Tiger Woods as the most valuable sports brand in the world.

Brand partners including Sprite, Beats by Dre, and McDonald’s have already celebrated his return to Cleveland, but it’s Nike that most effectively brings this to life in their advertising.

In a masterful short film by Nike’s longtime agency Wieden+Kennedy, LeBron gives a goosebump-inducing speech in the pregrame huddle, joined by not only the Cavaliers players and staff but what seems like the entire city of Cleveland.

His words are expertly crafted in the fashion of classic locker room speeches by sports leaders. The black and white effect paired with the ominous score contribute to the drama. Hoards of Cleveland faithful bow their heads in reverence, almost religiously. It’s perfect.

Accompanying this spot was a gameday launch of his LeBron 12 signature shoe, and the installation of a 10-story banner, with “Cleveland” replacing his name on the jersey to symbolize James putting the city on his back.

Remember the aftermath of The Decision in 2010 when fans burned his jersey and parodied his Nike ad? It seems like a distant memory now, as scars have healed over time while LeBron (and his PR team) have made all the right moves in process of his return to Cleveland.

Yes, ‘LeBrand’ is alive and stronger than ever in 2014. And his corporate partners – Nike especially – will gladly benefit from their associations with King James.

Los Angeles Clippers

New management, new era. The upstart LA Clippers, longtime basement-dwellers of the NBA, were finally able to split ties with disgraced former owner Donald Sterling when Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer took over the team for a record $2 billion.

As any brand would be wise to do, the Clippers have made moves to distance themselves from any associations with their past owner’s baggage (Lululemon, take note). Ballmer attending a Dodgers game with Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Magic Johnson (who was disparaged by Sterling) was a fantastic way to extend the olive branch and signify a new beginning. Now, the NBA club seeks to reinforce to fans that the Clippers are entering a more positive era.

The ‘Be Relentless’ spot by RPA avoids any mention of the controversy or ownership change, but hints at the changes with overt imagery of Ballmer and references to a “beginning” in the script. Most of all, it is successful because it focuses on the basketball court, which is all that Clippers fans will care about assuming the team continues to emerge as a leader in the NBA’s Western Conference.

Sport Chek

Embracing the Toronto Raptors’ successful ‘We The North’ campaign, Sport Chek looks to make itself the retail destination for basketball fans across Canada.

Canadian Tire Corporation has made a big bet on Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment brands with a recent sponsorship deal, and Sport Chek is even selling an exclusive Raptors clothing collection by Adidas this year. Tapping Sid Lee to re-create the magic of ‘We The North’, Sport Chek is releasing several videos for a #MyNorth series.

Starting with a heartfelt tribute to Toronto basketball legend Phil Dixon, the videos take on a grassroots approach and will feature amateur ballers from nine communities in the GTA, according to Russ Martin at Marketing Mag. It’s a strong content play, and complements the Raptors’ own 2014-15 campaign quite well.

Sport Chek took it a step further by involving Raptors forward Patrick Patterson as an ‘Undercover Pro’ working at a Sport Chek store. It’s a cute stunt, but lacks the polish and emotional resonance of the Sid Lee videos.

While it’s important to draw a connection to the stores, this video does little to sell fans on the merits of their basketball section, nor does it take advantage of their impressive in-store digital technology.

In fact, the ‘Undercover Pro’ concept itself is derivative of a much funnier video that involved Landry Fields as “employee of the month” at Modell’s. Given that Fields now plays for the Raptors it seems baffling that Sport Chek would recycle this concept with another Raptors bench player. Thankfully, this stunt is just a backup to the much larger role played by the ‘#MyNorth’ videos, which should suffice just fine in their starting role for Sport Chek.

 

What’s your opinion on LeBron James since his return to Cleveland? Do you have a favourite NBA tip-off campaign that deserves mention? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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