Xiao Yang, Vice President of Global Partners of NBA China, used a large number of vivid and detailed cases to introduce the rich and colorful marketing cooperation between NBA China and its market partners. Tailor-made marketing partners allow fans and consumers to better remember the co-creation, win-win and co-construction marketing relationship of cooperative brands.

Xiao Yang

Xiao Yang, Vice President of NBA China Global Partnerships

WARC: In terms of brand cooperation, why is the NBA relatively easier for fans to remember? How does this relate to the cultural positioning or ethos of the brand that the NBA wants to convey in all of its collaborations and communications right now?

Yang Xiaogang: The NBA refers to the brands it cooperates with as marketing partners. From the name, it can be seen that the relationship between the two parties is more of a marketing relationship of co-creation, win-win, and co-construction.

In the traditional sense, what the NBA does is sports marketing. The biggest difference between sports marketing and simple advertising is that through the mature emotional connection with the fans, the cooperative brand is brought into the fan base, and the establishment of a deeper, more reliable and more A relationship based on emotional connection, rather than a simple concept of exposure and reach.

The metaphor of the image is that advertising is about who I am, and sports marketing is through my sports asset IP, or through the deep and good connection between this asset IP and the target group, to create a story together, let Audiences are easier to remember. This kind of operation must be based on the premise that the NBA has a huge fan base in China. At present, the NBA has 430 million basketball fans in China. Last season, more than 500 million people of all kinds consumed NBA content, which will undoubtedly bring huge exposure to partners. And our data also shows that basketball fans are younger than soccer. Young consumers are definitely a battleground in marketing. Relatively speaking, their education level will be higher, they will have more disposable income, and they will be the opinion leaders of the surrounding people. Many times they are playing the role of consumption leaders.

On this basis, when we cooperate with our partners, we are looking for handover points. For example, the external slogan of cooperation with Hennessy is "Spirit NBA" (Spirit means both "spirit" and "spirit" in English), Mengniu The concept of "born to be strong" and the NBA's positive and positive brand concept can find common points of intersection. Based on this handover point, both parties will convey their marketing concepts to the vast fan base and target consumer groups.

The NBA brand has actually expanded from the top basketball attributes to fierce on-court confrontation, and even fashion trends and healthy lifestyles. Therefore, each partner can find the attribute group belonging to its brand in the huge NBA fan base, and achieve a deeper connection, and it is easier for everyone to remember its connection with the NBA.

WARC: Have you observed any new changes in consumer behavior or psychology regarding sports? Will these changes affect the output of the NBA and its cooperative brands in practice?

Yang Xiaogang: Because the epidemic has lasted for more than three years, everyone's awareness of physical health has increased. This change can be seen in two stages. The first stage is when everyone is locked at home and cannot go out, the crowd watching the game continues to grow. In recent years, staying at home has led more people to have more business or content interactions with the NBA through online platforms, live broadcasts, short videos, and small programs.

In the second stage, once people have the opportunity to go out, the NBA still strives to do more offline activities, especially in the summer. For example, in August 2020, when the epidemic was relatively eased, we launched the NBA 3X three-person basketball challenge in 4 cities across the country, and expanded to 10 cities in the next two years. Now there are more than 100 teams in each city, with a total of thousands of teams participating. It can be seen that everyone's enthusiasm for basketball and sports has not weakened in the slightest. On the contrary, once people who are stuck at home can go out, they show that they are more willing to come out to play, and they are more willing to socialize and entertain a lot based on basketball.

NBA 3X three-person basketball game

Image courtesy of NBA

In addition to basketball games, the NBA also does many other concepts and content, such as more trendy fashion music parties. Not necessarily hardcore basketball, but a variety of offline activities that meet the needs of NBA fan consumer groups. So from this perspective, everyone has realized the fact that sports are an important part of life.

WARC: What impact does the epidemic have on the marketing activities of the NBA and its marketing partners, and have any corresponding changes been made?

Yang Xiaogang: Many market partners have been cooperating with us all year round, generally at least 3 to 5 years, like Mengniu, which has been cooperating with us for more than ten years from 2007 to now.

On the basis of a long cooperation cycle, we certainly cannot do the same thing every year. So no matter whether there is an epidemic or not, we will seek some new sports marketing methods with our marketing partners. For example, for competitions, more than ten years ago, we mainly took the form of caravans, that is, we drove a very cool truck to the supermarket to set up a 1,000-square-meter venue for a basketball carnival. A few years later, the format was upgraded to 5v5, which was then a non-professional but elite level of competition.

In addition, we also added authentic NBA elements to these promotional activities, including bringing many NBA stars, cheerleaders, and mascots to the scene before the epidemic, so as to create an immersive experience co-created by basketball and entertainment. In the past three years of the epidemic, due to the restrictions of isolation, we have paid more attention to the development of local grassroots basketball. For example, the NBA3X game mentioned above has a lower threshold and is more suitable for public participation.

The net red basketball team is another move we have taken to cater to the market in the past two years. For example, Beijing Porcelain Factory and Xi’an Yeqiudi are relatively well-known in China. They will take the initiative to join our basketball games and can contribute to NBA games. They are also good marketing platforms in their own right.

These activities themselves are related to the epidemic, but most of them still belong to the evolution, continuation, and upgrade of NBA offline marketing.

Online marketing is more abundant. The way ten years ago was that everyone mainly watched CCTV games, and NBA advertisements were also carried out on such a large platform. In the next few years, various mainstream media platforms such as CCTV, Douyin, Kuaishou, and Weibo will cooperate with the NBA. We will empower different content according to the attributes of these platforms. For example, Migu and Tencent’s sports broadcasts focus on long videos, Kuaishou and Douyin focus on short videos, and Weibo focuses on hot topics. In 2021, we roughly counted more than 1,000 hot searches on the NBA. In addition to the reason for the hot search body, this result is also closely related to our team, especially the content distribution team's intention to create their own content. Then such a layout can bring more ways and means of marketing to our partners.

With the follow-up of technology, the experience of fans is even more different. For example, now on Tencent, fans can click on the link to directly buy the sneakers of their favorite stars while watching the game. The mini program supports one-click purchase without exiting the game viewing environment. We and the e-commerce platform also have many marketing methods based on accurate data, which can capture the group of people they want for partners, so as to obtain more accurate marketing and more efficient conversion.

WARC: In the specific cooperation with NBA China, is there a preferred cooperation method for different industries and brands? Or are they more inclined to converge in sports marketing?

Yang Xiaogang: Each partner has different needs for sports sponsorship under the premise of their own brand maturity.

What mature brands need more is to help them rebrand through the NBA platform, such as Louis Vuitton, why is it willing to spend money to cooperate with the NBA when it is so famous? It is because it realizes that the brand audience is relatively old, so it hopes to create a younger image from the perspective of product design and brand promotion.

Some brands are in the growth stage, so we need to let more consumers know about themselves through our platform, and the NBA can play an endorsement role, making consumers feel that the brand is reliable, especially in terms of quality or product features. Zoom out through the NBA platform.

Therefore, cooperation cannot be one size fits all, and must be produced on demand. Our preliminary communication with our partners is basically to tailor the marketing strategy according to the purpose of brand marketing, and this strategy can be adjusted every year. Since partners may focus on brand awareness or preference this year, and focus more on sales conversion next year, we may use the rich resources of the NBA on 2C and 2B, as well as authorized products or channel incentives through exposure, experience, and promotional mechanisms and other ways to customize assets and platforms for customers.

In addition, each partner has a different point of focus each year. For example, Nike and Adidas in shoes and clothing must promote their stars' performance on the field during the season to help them sell shoes and jerseys, or pay attention to the moment when their stars can come to China for image promotion in summer; Consumer products focus on annual shopping festivals and traditional festivals; automobiles focus more on new car releases in April and May each year, or auto shows in September and October. Depending on the time period, we will match different assets to customers. The NBA season runs from October to June of the following year, and there will be many landing activities in summer. We can turn some highlights of the season into highlight projects and present them according to the needs of customers. .

WARC: Is there any difference in the way and process for the NBA to connect with Chinese localized customers and international customers like LV?

Yang Xiaogang: The logic of communication is the same, but the process may be different. Because some global customers are more communicated by the North American headquarters and European headquarters of the NBA, the work in China only needs to undertake communication. About half of the partners have their decision-makers in China, so we can communicate directly, which helps us better understand their brand needs and facilitates our planning. For example, within three years, what goals will be achieved in the first year? What about the transformation in the third year?

In terms of local brands, take Mengniu as an example. From 2007 to now, Mengniu has gone through different stages in terms of branding. In 2007, Mengniu was at a young stage, so the cooperation with us was more from the perspective of product promotion, to let everyone know the brand of Mengniu. Everyone remembers that the slogan at that time was "a catty of milk every day, strong Chinese people". Later, in addition to the theme of healthy growth, Mengniu took more of a fashion line, so in the past few years, NBA elements will be used on the packaging, and the marketing method is more to sponsor our event platform, not only to promote the concept of health, but to It has its brand tone in it.

The category has also changed. In the beginning, Mengniu was only known as liquid milk, but gradually Mengniu cooperated with us in projects including cheese, ice cream, derivatives of raw dairy products, etc. We will tailor some products that belong to these sub-brand attributes. For example, in 2018, we and Mengniu used the basketball park in Changsha as the main venue. At that time, NBA star Scottie Pippen was invited to the scene and held a basketball-themed party. The party included a 3X basketball game, and invited the 6 finalists from the most popular hip-hop variety show in China at that time, "The Rap of China", to the scene for a platter concert. There are also many fashion and play exhibitions on site, as well as elements that young people like. The online platform of this event is Tmall, the reason is that we hope that this event will not only be popular, but also popular, and have more traffic support. The final result was that at the beginning of June before the "618" that year, Mengniu sold nearly 50 million yuan of NBA packaged milk within 3 days.

In addition, some companies also have the need to go overseas, and we will also help them contact relevant platforms. For example, vivo, after first cooperating with Greater China, expanded to the Philippine market through our introduction. Lenovo and Haier have also cooperated with us in the United States. According to different needs at different stages, these brands will consider cooperating with markets other than NBA China. That is, both imports and exports.

WARC: In terms of content, how does the NBA co-create with partners?

Yang Xiaogang: Most of the content we publish on the platform is to provide commercial services for our partners. For example, a series of star recipes for Dix, when Dix wants to promote a certain burger, we will ask the nutritionist of the American team, or even the star, to record a short video, the content is to show his favorite recipes, and even record him. Make your own simple healthy food content. This content will be laid out on relevant short video platforms, with the purpose of attracting traffic to offline stores.

In addition to team resources, we also have many signing talents, and we arrange for them to make short videos of store visits, which will inspire their fans to follow suit. I remember a very interesting case at that time, a KOL deliberately went to Dexters and said that he was a fan of the NBA to visit the store, could he call a secret code in exchange for a discount. Although he himself said a secret code to make the clerk a little embarrassed, the merchant still gave him a discount in the end. Unexpectedly, this video became popular as soon as it was put on the Internet. Many of his fans went to the store to ask for a discount from Dexter.

In addition, we also have many customized columns, such as the basketball variety show "Playing Ball Friends" that Kuaishou will do in 2021, which is named by Xiaoying Technology. Similar to the processing and distribution of a large number of original programs and event content, they can all be commercialized by partners. But the premise is that the partners also recognize our programs, no matter in terms of quality or traffic.

WARC: The NBA is also one of the earliest brands to practice metaverse content exploration, such as digital humans, NFT products, and the metaverse stadium in Brazil, including cooperation in many games. Can the NBA's investment in this part be understood as a very positive attitude?

Yang Xiaogang: Let ’s put it this way, the NBA will give back to its partners and maintain communication with fans through various effective ways, from traditional TV to social media and other digital means, including Metaverse. We are all willing to try and invest in channels that can bring you authentic NBA brands and NBA content.

For the Metaverse, everyone’s definition is different. In September 2022, we participated in the Beyond Metaverse Exhibition in Macau. Originally, it was supposed to be a physical exhibition, but due to well-known reasons, it was changed to online, which just provided us with an opportunity to showcase our brand through the Metaverse. An NBA metaverse space is created on the platform, where exhibitors can interact with the NBA and visit the exhibition.

The NBA’s booth at the Beyond Universe in Macau

Image courtesy of NBA

Afterwards, we will also look at opportunities and continue to discuss with Tencent, China Mobile, Migu and other social media platforms how to use Metaverse to interact with more fans and showcase partners and NBA brands. At present, the NBA has just started in the metaverse and is still exploring.

Games have always been a very important business segment of the NBA. Many people don't necessarily have the time or energy to play basketball, but they do have time to play games. During the epidemic, we also observed an exponential growth in our game traffic.

Our largest partner in the world is the real-life simulation game NBA2K; the cooperation with the game platform Tencent is also very deep, and the benefits are very good; in addition to traditional basketball games, our game department will also develop some lightweight games, which are more social The product is suitable for more fans to consume fragmented time.

WARC: Will the NBA worry about excessive brand equity mining?

Yang Xiaogang: We have two types of content. One is commercial content, and the other is content based on public welfare or emotional connection.

For example, on many platforms such as Weibo, we released a series of content "To Basketball", which was completely non-commercial. This short documentary series of Chinese folk basketball stories has no commercial attributes at all, and is more about excavating touching and touching stories, such as the basketball of a one-armed boy, the basketball of Daliang Mountain, and the basketball in a cave in the deep mountains of Guizhou, turning rural basketball stories into "Village BA", or the place where Internet celebrities check in.

As for content creation and content dissemination, is there excessive content? Actually quite the opposite. The mission of the NBA is to connect cultures and friendships through basketball. In this regard, the NBA is very powerful, with its unique charm and cultural exchange functions. In terms of content dissemination and production, we feel that the stories we have discovered so far are far from enough, rather than excessive. So in the next step, we will continue to discover the story of basketball. It is not necessary that every content disseminated is NBA-branded. In a more difficult external environment, positive and inspiring stories are more important.

In addition, there are NBA games every day, and the output of related content is also every day. Therefore, it may not be just the NBA. Content is the advantage of various professional sports leagues, which can continuously, naturally, and organically produce content every day.

WARC: On the issue of public welfare, or sustainable development, what kind of cooperation cases does the NBA have with its partners?

Yang Xiaogang: In terms of charity and sustainable development, the NBA has been cultivating deeply. Since the NBA team came to China to play the NBA China Game in 2004, the NBA has done a lot of charity and support for rural development and sustainable development in China. Over the past decade, the NBA has built, donated or renovated more than 100 basketball courts in China, most of which are located in rural areas and relatively remote areas with inconvenient transportation. In the past 15 years, nearly 500 NBA players have personally come to China to participate in various charity activities. I believe this number will continue to grow after international travel is liberalized. So the NBA has been investing heavily in this area.

In addition, basketball is a team project, giving back to the society, doing charity and cultural work, is also a team project, and requires the support of various partners. In addition to doing many projects with various charitable foundations, our marketing partners are also important partners in this area. Only by forming a joint force can charity work be done well.

Not long ago, we just co-created a basketball court with Gatorade in Chengdu and held the inauguration ceremony. Basically all the facilities of this basketball court are made of recycled plastic from Gatorade water bottles, including the laying of floor glue and backboards. It can also be seen from this case that we and our partners can jointly use our own advantages and call on the society to do something beneficial.

NBA partners with Gatorade to protect stadiums

Image source: Xinchao Environmental Protection Life Weibo

We also have many rural teacher training projects, including local basketball training camps and teacher training, and partners will also participate in them. Before the NBA China Games every year, we will also take all participating teams to do a series of public welfare activities on the day before the game. Like our mobile phone partner vivo, we can present the perfect moments of these games or public welfare activities through mobile phones , Record the wonderful moments.

Especially in the past two years, partners have sublimated their awareness and will take the initiative to do some sustainable development or public welfare activities with us. Public welfare is now a very good marketing tool for brand reputation.

WARC: How did the NBA establish itself in the private sector? What special benefits can be provided to partners?

Yang Xiaogang: Although the NBA has more than 200 million social media fans in China, in the past few years we have been exploring how to establish one-on-one contact with fans. The premise of the connection must still be based on the theme and content of the NBA. In the past two or three years, we have been committed to building the NBA's own membership system. This system is built on the NBA’s App and Mini Programs, where there are news and data of the games, as well as member benefits we have developed, special products for members only, such as mobile phone cases, and other limited-edition functional products. It's what fans prefer.

Now, our DTC fan base has reached the order of 15 million, and we hope to reach 20 million by the end of 2022. With such a fresh, highly interactive and active fan group, we can do some tailor-made private domain traffic marketing for our partners. We can segment the labels of fan groups in more detail. For example, 50% of the fan base is people who own cars, and they are what Mobil or Xpeng Motors want to reach; people with families may be what Mengniu wants to reach.

WARC: What tools or methods do you use to measure the effectiveness of partner marketing?

Yang Xiaogang: What we do is more about ideas or processes. Going back to the question of "cooperation purpose", if it is to attract new users and transform, we will recommend brands to consider our DTC platform. As for the successful cooperation with Mengniu, why we chose the Tmall platform was because at that time, in addition to our own traffic promotion, we also had a precision marketing cooperation with Tmall, which gave us an open data bank, and we could divide The crowd who bought sporting goods and dairy products on Tmall in the past six months finally delineated about tens of millions of people, and then divided the crowd by age, gender, and region, and made several targeted versions of the idea. Even the tag can be accurate to which team's fan, we can push the products of the relevant team. So from this perspective, we have worked very closely with the platform to launch more precise marketing ideas, so as to achieve the goal of transformation.

There are also many partners. The goal of cooperation is not necessarily direct sales of products, but to motivate their distributors and channels through the resources of the NBA. When the channel has a very good response, its marketing purpose has been achieved. For example, Dicos will make a "Champion Cup" water cup product with us every summer. The marketing model is also very simple, that is, consumers can buy additional themed cups when they buy a set meal from Dicos. Many consumers are rushing to buy set meals with water glasses. The performance of water glasses and set meals during this period can be calculated.

WARC: Based on various uncertain factors, have you observed that the NBA's partners have significantly reduced their marketing investment? How has NBA China itself been affected?

Yang Xiaogang: In the past few months, I have been making plans for next year with my partners. Whether due to the economic downturn or other reasons, it is relatively common that next year's budget will be more or less affected. But there are also some individual brands, such as some international brands, because of the impact of the global environment, their global headquarters will give higher expectations to the Chinese market, so they also get more market budget in the Chinese market.

The economy is facing challenges, but the overall performance of the NBA in China is actually still going up. In many cases, partners will add more to the contract amount stipulated in the cooperation.

When the budget is shrinking and everyone is doing subtraction and separation, brands will instead focus more on those marketing platforms and channels that they think are effective. We understand that everyone is very difficult, and what we can do is to provide more value to our partners, so that they feel that spending one penny can get two cents, or even five cents.

When business is bad, conversion is definitely required. Not only does our 2C platform have a conversion function, but Tencent, Kuaishou, Douyin and other public domains, and even live broadcasts, have very direct means of conversion.

NBA China also cooperates with many mainstream platforms. From product promotion to e-commerce transformation, there is a relatively complete layout, so it can provide relatively closed-loop solutions for brands, instead of only giving brands An IP, how to play the rest, the brand has to think for itself.

In the final analysis, the bottom-level marketing logic remains unchanged, that is, partners still want to capture the NBA's huge, relatively young, and consuming crowd.

WARC: As an international brand itself, what is the degree of global support for NBA China?

Yang Xiaogang: The NBA has always attached great importance to the Chinese market. The huge fan base in China has exceeded 400 million, surpassing the entire population of the United States. So China is the NBA's largest overseas market in the United States. At the same time, given the growth rate of the Chinese economy over the past few years, the importance of the Chinese market to the NBA is self-evident.

In the 16 years since I joined the team, it is obvious that the headquarters will give NBA China more and more autonomy. When I first joined the NBA, China was just a representative office. For the first China game in 2004, the NBA set up an office with dozens of people in China, and now has more than 200 employees in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taipei, which is unmatched by any sports organization. With such a large high-quality team and more local skills, we can provide customers with excellent services from planning to operation, execution, and even case closure. That's something I'm very proud of.

We have many self-developed platforms and products, especially in the Internet, where the performance of the Chinese market is leading the world. The China region is not learning from others. More often, the US headquarters and other partners around the world will use China's marketing cases as examples to introduce and discuss with their partners.

For example, virtual advertising, this technology originated from overseas, but its first launch in the world was in the Chinese market, and it must require the cooperation of hardware and software in the United States, so the chief technology officer of NBA North America at that time also directly from New York Fly to Hong Kong to have an in-depth discussion with domestic broadcasters. When this application had a certain marketing effect in China and achieved very good commercial results, the United States also began to launch corresponding forms of information advertisements in its own country and other markets.

Another example is the Chinese New Year celebration. We have been doing this for 11 years. Not only in China, the entire NBA league will celebrate the Spring Festival in the United States and around the world during the Spring Festival. Many NBA teams will arrange dragon and lion dances on site, provide Chinese food, and introduce players on the field in Chinese. Many NBA teams will wear jerseys with Chinese characters during the Spring Festival. Therefore, whether in terms of business operations or cultural exchanges, the interaction between the two sides is very frequent.

In fact, the first NBA game in China was held in 1979. At that time, the Washington Bullets, now the Washington Wizards, played exhibition games against the Chinese national team in Beijing and Shanghai, and also participated in many cultural exchange activities. 1979 was the first year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. In the same year, NBA teams came to China. Everyone is most familiar with the story of ping-pong diplomacy. In fact, there was also basketball diplomacy at that time.

NBA Overseas Chinese New Year Celebration

Image courtesy of NBA