The NBA’s Consumer Engagement Advantage

By: Sumeet Goel

The NBA playoffs are starting this weekend and will continue for the next two months. Like millions around the world, I’ll be constantly reminded of its presence, the games, the personalities and the sport itself by viral clips and memes that flood Twitter, Facebook, news websites and more.

It’s not that casual basketball fandom is easier than ever. Instead, it’s become hard not to be a casual fan. You actually have to try to avoid its omnipresent content – a major competitive advantage over hockey, baseball and yes, even football.

As a result of the NBA’s innovative fan engagement strategies, I know that Joel Embiid has a crush on Rihanna, that Russell Westbrook has an interesting sense of style and that James Harden can be just plain cruel.

I give the NBA a lot of credit for this; their approach to marketing the sport offers a lot of clues for any business leader hoping to gain exposure for their brands.

Under the tenure of commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA has embraced their players’ wide-ranging and colorful personalities, encouraging more exposure of the players and interaction with fans. Not coincidentally, the league is now perceived as the most socially and politically progressive of the major sports.

In addition, Silver’s office has not only embraced new technology, but has actively sought it out. In a recent Fast Company story, NBA Vice President of Emerging Media Bob Carney explained that the league meets with anyone and everyone who wants to pitch the league on new technology. Everyone!

Finally, the NBA has changed the rules of the sport itself. In contrast to baseball, where the elderly gatekeepers of the game are still haggling over time limits between pitches, pro basketball has implemented defensive restrictions to improve the flow of the game.

Taken together, these efforts make the NBA hard to ignore. Here’s what we can learn from their success:

  • Embrace your brand’s true personality. Consumers react to authenticity and see through phony posturing;
  • Constantly seek out new ways to share and interact. The NBA met with WSC Sports Technologies, the company behind its instant clip-generation tool, when it was just another start-up with a terrible website and no notable clients. Now they dominate the space;
  • Change the rules. Be willing to reconsider the fundamental building blocks of your brand experience to better suit the information age.

The NBA has uniquely straddled the difficult divide of keeping its older fans (like myself) engaged while catering to the needs and consumption patterns of its younger base. I think all of us can learn from this ability to keep an eye on what *has* worked while continuously looking to see what *does* work now and what *will* be more important in the future.