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NBA on its post-pandemic rebound and expanding basketball’s global footprint

The Drum 09 Jul 2021 10:00

After facing the unprecedented hurdles of months-long suspended play, stadium closures and declining viewership rates, the NBA is back and ready for a major rebound ahead of its 75th anniversary. As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, the NBA’s vice-president, head of fan engagement and DTC Europe & Middle East George Aivazoglou opens up about how the league is bouncing back post-pandemic and expanding its global reach.

With the National Basketball League finals in full swing, the organization is in the midst of a much-needed rebound. Last year it saw an $84m drop in revenue, but gained significant digital learnings.

It is leaning into the NFT movement, investing deeply in digital-first outreach programs in European markets and recently kicked off a global campaign featuring its stars from around the world as it eyes its 75th anniversary season in 2022.

“The pandemic, while presenting its challenges, has made us re-evaluate our priorities,” says George Aivazoglou, vice-president, head of fan engagement and DTC for the NBA, Europe and Middle East. “It has definitely helped us accelerate certain aspects of the overall fan experience as well as pivot to a digital-first, direct-to-consumer approach. We have also seen how habits and consumption patterns have continued to evolve, which we have taken into account as we push the boundaries in terms of innovation and the fan experience.”

Another key initiative that has helped the league adapt has been an investment in digital activations. The NBA has partnered with digital platform OWQLO, which has helped create digital experiences and promote various programs, including Jr. NBA at Home, an interactive exercise-focused content series for children, and Her Time to Play online, which includes programming and resources to get girls involved in the game and help them build confidence and leadership skills.

“The misconception is that the NBA is purely an American league,” says Aivazoglou. “We have a team in Canada, 14 offices around the world, have staged close to 100 games internationally and this past season counted 107 international players – so we are a truly global brand.”

But the spot doesn’t just feature American stars; it is “centered around local heroes like Giannis Antetokounmpo in Greece and Luka Doncic in Spain,” Aivazoglou says. Furthermore, the league ran various versions of the spot in different markets across Europe, including one in the UK narrated by popular London-based recording artist AJ Tracey.

One of these services is the OTT streaming service NBA League Pass, which may be especially useful to European and Middle Eastern fans, since games are generally broadcast late at night in their respective time zones. With NBA League Pass, international fans can tune in whenever they want.

Check out The Drum’s Sports Marketing hub for more on how the marketing industry can score long-term success through association with sport. And don’t forget you can sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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NBAGeorge AivazoglouAivazoglouMiddle EastEurope
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