The evolution of the sports marketing world didn’t happen overnight, nor did it directly coincide with a specific event. There are however certain benchmarks, touchstones and signposts that, viewed through the lens of history, give us an better understanding of the world we live in today and how it came to be. Part III of this series looks at one event from the early 1990s, the USA Basketball “Dream Team” that participated in the Barcelona summer Olympics, to provide insight on the development of the NBA, and basketball in general, as a truly global sport.
The USA Dream Team
In 1988 the United States men’s basketball team finished with the bronze medal in Seoul, marking only the second time the U.S. had failed to win the gold any time they had participated in the competition. There would not be a repeat four years later. The U.S. decided to send their NBA stars to Barcelona, and in so doing made basketball, and by extension the NBA, into a global game. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the rest of the NBA Dream Team were not merely competitors, they were the featured attraction in what amounted to exhibition games for the Olympics, and the greatest global marketing campaign the NBA had ever seen. But the other nations left Barcelona with more than autographs from David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Scottie Pippen. And when they returned home they soon found NBA games on TV, and U.S.-based players in their domestic leagues.
The next year, 1993, three foreign-born players were drafted in the NBA. In 2000 the number had jumped to 14 and by 2006 the number was 18, including the number one overall pick! In fact, three of the last six overall first picks have come from outside the U.S. Currently, NBA rosters feature 75 international players from 30 different countries and territories. NBA games and related programming are broadcast to 215 countries in 41 languages via 202 telecasters.
For marketers, new opportunities, and new challenges, have arisen in response to the changing landscape. As a global brand, FedEx has found a clever way to generate global interest by leveraging a domestic property. Recently, FedEx named several stars as brand ambassadors: Multiple League MVP, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash (Canada), San Antonio Spurs guards Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobli (Argentina), Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng (England/Sudan) and New Orleans Hornets forward Peja Stojakovic (Serbia). In this way, FedEx is benefiting from multiple Sports Marketing flatteners: The new distribution channels – the Internet and satellite television – and the affects generated by the 1992 Dream Team. To truly leverage this opportunity they will now need to offer consumers a way to engage with these brand ambassadors, both in the U.S. and the native countries of the athletes. There are seemingly endless ways in which to do that, from live events and broadcasts to online, mobile and social media.
Now of course, Major League Baseball has created the World Baseball Classic and the NFL is playing games in London. All this activity opens exciting new doors for marketers who are willing to put in the work necessary to understand the passions, needs and social habits of sports fans from Shanghai to Munich.
The (Sports Marketing) World is Flat will be a recurring feature on eyecube. Check back regularly for more.