Integrated: adj – combining or coordinating separate elements to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole
In sports, there are transactional sponsorships, where a buyer pays a seller for a package of assets without much more to the exchange (signage, program ads, etc.). There are marketing partnerships where constituents benefit with an exchange of assets beyond the standard buy/sell (an “official hotel partner” gets a guaranteed number of room nights, the sports property gets discounted room rates, fans get contests and promotions, the broadcast partner gets an ad buy). Then there are relationships that transcend the sponsorship space into fully integrated partnerships, where the exchange of assets is beyond transactional and the ultimate value may not be calculated within the window of the contract.
The extended partnership announced in early 2017 between Gatorade and the NBA’s Developmental League is one of those truly, fully integrated partnerships, where indeed both parties expect a “combining of separate elements to provide for a (mutually beneficial) interrelated whole.”
The now NBA G League (formerly the NBA D League, once the NBDL) kicked off its 17th season at the beginning of November. The developmental league of the NBA consists of 26 teams, all tied to NBA teams – most owned by their parent clubs, has long been a proving ground for both the talented basketball players on the rosters as well as ideas and technology of interest to the NBA and its member teams.
The name change came with the execution of a seven-year extension of an existing deal the league signed with Gatorade, one of its inaugural marketing partners. Presenting the “Gatorade” League, is hardly a naming rights deal for the sports nutrition and performance company. In fact, Jeff Kearney, Global Head of Sports Marketing for Gatorade, might characterize that as the least important asset in this deal.
Among the ways this mutually beneficial, integrated partnership delivers: The NBA and its clubs will get the full advantage of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and its battery of nutritionists, trainers, and scientists to help players reach their goals. From nutrition to recovery to rest and more, everything will be focused on helping players optimize for peak performance. At the Stadium Sports Marketing, NBA G League President Malcolm Turner said, “Opt-in was never a problem, we are already a test bed for the league. Development means a lot of things. This is an important resource for us that will help our players facilitate and accelerate the achievement of their goals.”
Gatorade will have at its disposal a cache of elite athletes with a known schedule of games, practices, and travel (often including grueling bus rides and unfavorable time tables) to test products and protocols. During the same panel as Turner, Kearney discussed Gatorade’s goals, “We don’t do naming rights deals. If the success is measured in media impressions, we failed. This will be measured on the impact we make by creating new products, the innovations we make… the key learnings that drive innovation.” This process is old hat for Gatorade, in fact, it is the very foundation for the brand itself. Having the opportunity to turn their relationship with the “second best basketball league in the world” into more than a standard sideline/product deal, Kearney said, “as a founding partner of D-league, it would have been easy to rubber stamp a renewal. How do you break through the clutter of sponsorship space and relive the story of 1965? With the NBA and partner leagues at the pinnacle, and basketball being fastest growing sport in the world and they are going to give us a league to play with? We are in!”
So, when will the parent teams/league and fans taste the fruits of this partnership? Turner pointed out, while the league and Gatorade are playing the long game with this relationship, the on-court product will pay the earliest dividends. How the scientists help athletes to perform at their peak levels, reduce recovery time, and accelerate to their goals will be reflected in the G League play throughout the season. Further, fans can expect some original content chronicling the work of the G League athletes and the scientists at the GSSI as the 2017-18 season unfolds.
This content will only help elevate and expand brand awareness of the NBA G League. If anything, this is inverting the process of renting space and brand association, as Turner said during the panel discussion, the league has had a lot of change happen very quickly and is proud to have a world class brand like Gatorade help tell the story and introduce G League basketball to even more fans.
For basketball fans watching G League games over the winter, in addition to players fueled by Gatorade Sports Science, they will see some other notable differences from standard NBA rules in this “test pad:”
· Each team will be entitled to a “Reset Timeout” in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and the final two minutes of any overtime period. These TO’s do not allow for a huddle, and do allow for all other elements of a timeout.
· Shot Clock Reset: The 24-second clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound or when the offense otherwise retains possession after the ball contacts the rim.
· Instant replay will occur for these five circumstances: flagrant fouls; 2-point/3-point FG attempts or fouls; made basket at the end of period; foul at the end of a period; altercation between two or more players.
· There is a Coach’s Challenge, one per game, to be used at any point during regulation or OT, on only: fouls called, goaltending/basket interference, or out-of-bounds calls.
· The away-from-the-play foul rule (AKA anti- Hack-a-Shaq) occurs when illegal contact is made by the defense either deliberately away from the immediate area of offensive action, prior to the ball being released on a throw-in, or both. If this occurs at any point in the game, personal and team fouls are assessed, and one free through attempt will be awarded to any player in the game at the time the foul was committed.
· Five team fouls per period (up from four) before free throws are awarded.
· There is a whole difference TO structure: each team gets seven, all are “team timeouts,” not full or thirty-second, and they are implemented with restrictions, among them, limiting teams to two team outs in the last 3:00 of the fourth quarter.
· One third of the teams will implement wearable technology during games this season.
In 2016-17, 17 NBA teams finished the season with seven or more players who had G League experience. It is only a matter of time until 30 NBA teams finish a season with an opportunity to incorporate G League proven GSSI products on the bench as well.