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Pathmatics Blog

Brand Spotlight: NBA

June 29 2018 by Jordan Kramer
NBA Youtube specifically
NBA Youtube specifically

As trade deals heat up and free agency kicks off this weekend (Hi, Lebron!), the National Basketball Association (NBA) is back in the press. Last month, while gearing up for Finals, the brand appeared as number 27 on the Pathmatics' Top 500 US advertiser list (data pulled June 4, 2018). The day before Finals started on May 31, 2018, the NBA ran a YouTube takeover promoting games lasting potentially until June 17, 2018.

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 Let’s take a look at their digital advertising strategy and see what the sports organization has been up to over a recent 30-day period (May 6, 2018 - June 4, 2018).

NBA 2018 Digital Ad Spend

Of the total ad spend for a 30 day period, NBA recently spent 65% of its budget on desktop display, 18% on social, 15% on mobile display, and 2% on desktop video.

Overall, the NBA decreased their total spend by close to half a million (USD) year over year, which resulted in over 46 million fewer impressions.

The 2018 finals were slated for May 31 – June 17, while 2017 finals were June 1 – June 12. With games and time frames similar to one another, why has the NBA spent significantly less in the same time frame this year?

Compared to last year (May 6, 2017 - June 4, 2017), desktop display budget allocation remained the same within one percentage point. However, NBA’s strategy showed significant increase in mobile display spend, with a corresponding decrease in social

NBA mobile creative

The decision to increase mobile display spend correlates with a Yahoo! Mobile web takeover on May 31st to promote Game 1 of the finals. NBA may have historically found that mobile advertising brought more awareness to the Finals, than relying on social.

Additionally, the NBA shortened their site list significantly across devices - running creatives on 602 sites in 2017, compared to only 185 in 2018. Consolidating their strategy to focus on sites where they were having the most success with historical campaigns, and dropping any long-tail sites, would also impact their overall digital ad spend.

In 2014, with the intention of marketing more heavily, the NBA hired its first CMO since the 1990’s, Pam El. In  March 2017, El emphasized the changing landscape of marketing to fans, saying, “We used to hire simply writers, art directors, or people who have advertising experience; today we are hiring data scientists, research people, analytical minds or very data-minded people. This is the way the game and our audience is changing, and we have to make sure NBA fans can engage with the game in every way imaginable at any time they want.”

In late 2017, adage.com reported that NBA ratings were up 30%. The increase in ratings may have also changed the organization’s spending strategy.

NBA Rolls Out Creatives

NBAspotlightFrom early May to early June 2018, the NBA released 270 new creatives highlighting individual teams, merchandise, events such as viewing parties, and ways to watch the Finals.

The creative style of NBA’s ads also changed from year to year. From 2017 to 2018, the creatives are bolder, with block lettering in place of historical cursiveBetween 2016 and 2017, NBA made updates to overall design, incorporating new color schemes.


NBA 2018


NBA 2017

NBA 2016

Of these 3 years of NBA ads, notice the 2018 ad includes information regarding the NBA’s new YouTubeTV partnership.

NBA Partnership with YouTube

Finals presented by YouTube

As of March 2018, NBA announced its exclusive partnership with YouTube, which made YouTube TV the first ever presenting partner of the NBA Finals. As part of the deal, NBA is branding current creatives with YouTube awareness“The Finals presented by YouTube TV” logo is featured during all Finals games. Pathmatics data reveals that NBA ads featuring YouTube TV are run on Yahoo home and sub-pages, YouTube, and Facebook.

Pathmatics data also shows the NBA ads running specifically on YouTube place a higher emphasis on the partnership between the two – mentioning YouTube more than once.

NBA Youtube specifically

As part of the deal, YouTube TV is also featured in ABC commercial spots and in-game call outs, and has a presence across the NBA’s digital and social media assets.

NBA Senior Vice President, Global Media and Business Development Dan Rossomondo said, “Our presenting partnership of The Finals marks another first in our longstanding and innovative history with YouTube…with YouTube TV we are excited to provide fans with new ways to experience the excitement of these championship series.”

See the NBA's Entire Digital Advertising Strategy [Free Report]

For more insights from the NBA’s recent digital strategy, including creative details, top sites, and device-type breakdown, download the latest Brand Spotlight Report below.

Download NBA's Digital Ad Strategy


About Author
Jordan Kramer

An out-of-the-box thinker with a love for disruptive ideas, Jordan's background spans PR and events for the wedding & hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Scottsdale and also launching one of America's most unique food trucks. She jumped from the food start-up scene to the tech start-up scene in 2013 to join one of the most unique companies in ad tech. Jordan is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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