Can the NBA sell Obamacare?

LeBron James of the Miami Heat looks on before the start of play following a timeout against the San Antonio Spurs during game 5 of the NBA finals on June 16, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.

If you're a basketball fan, you'll be in front of the tube Game 7 of the NBA Finals Thursday night.

Marketing-wise, pro basketball players have sold a lot of things: Cars. Credit cards. Beer -- duh.

Well, how about Obamacare?

That's right, there's talk of a partnership with the NBA to get the word out to the uninsured.

Athletes hawking insurance, it's been done. Massachusetts paid the Boston Red Sox to promote its health exchanges a few years back. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield threw this pitch, on TV.

Tim Wakefield: "The state's health connector has affordable plans, lots to choose from, and easy sign-up."

Last week at a state health meeting, officials indicated the Feds will follow suit, citing a "national campaign sponsored by the NBA."

Josh Archambeau of the Massachusetts think tank Pioneer Institute attended. He says the target group is young, single males.

"And the demographics of the NBA certainly match that," Archambeau says. "And probably most important, their season also coincides with open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act."

The NBA didn't call us back to confirm. Federal health officials would only say they're "speaking with a wide range of potential partners."

What is clear is the president loves basketball. He hooped it up with NBA stars in D.C. three years ago. Former White House economist Jared Bernstein was there with the pros.

"They were probably playing at around 5 percent," says Bernstein. "And he was playing at around 100 percent, but that said, he scored a few baskets as I recall."

An NBA assist would be great for the White House.

But what about the league? It has to be careful not to appear political.

"If they're out there saying 'hey there's this new thing out there you need to check it out, find out if it's for you,' that's one deal," says says brand consultant Jamie Rice at Carton Donofrio Partners. "If they are out there saying 'the president has done X, Y and Z and we need to support him' that's a completely different deal."

Whatever the outreach, it'll be hard persuading young, healthy men without families to buy insurance.

But the health care law needs them paying into the system to succeed.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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