The NBA is holding its traditional Christmas Day games on Friday, when you can relive your dreams and nightmares alike of matches past. But something will be a little different this year. The NBA is running ads showing players speaking out against gun violence, alongside victims of gun violence. This isn’t like an individual player tweeting an image or supporting a cause, this has the whole league’s name on it.
“It’s a tremendous platform to be able to present this issue to the country in human terms not in political terms,” said Jason Rzepka, director of cultural engagement for Everytown for Gun Safety, the group founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. He credits Spike Lee with the idea to go to the NBA.
Whosever idea it was, “I think it was a brilliant idea,” said Michael Leeds, professor of economics at Temple University. “I think the NBA occupies a unique piece of real estate in American culture right now.”
Between the players and the fans, it intersects with a wide array of demographics. In advertising terms, that makes the NBA a unicorn.
“Because media has become so fragmented, advertisers, marketers and brands are looking for something that will unify a big audience and also will connect with them emotionally,” said Paul Swinand, equity analyst at Morningstar.
The audience for the ABC Christmas games last year jumped 16 percent from 2013. Even in sports franchises where viewership has not been increasing, sports licensing fees have risen.
“The power of sports and sports branding is actually rising,” said Swinand.
At the same time, players like Lebron James or Derrick Rose have become more outspoken on social issues, which may be influencing the NBA’s brand itself.
“It’s a continuation of what the NBA believes is part of their brand equity,” said Paul Swangard, a lecturer at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
If fans buy into that, Swangard says, then the ads actually strengthen the NBA’s bond with its fan base.
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