The 2016 NBA Finals series featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors was the highest rating Finals series since Michael Jordan won his last championship in 1998.
The seven game series averaged 20.28 million viewers on ABC, with the crowning game peaking at a staggering 31.02 million viewers. Throw in the fact that the NBA had more League Pass subscribers than ever during the 2015/16 season, and the final statistics become even more mind-boggling.
The vast viewership numbers may have been due to the Golden State Warriors trying to cap off the greatest season in NBA history. It may have been because of the Warriors fan friendly style of play, pushing the pace and raining down 3’s on most possessions. Alternatively, many may have tuned in to see if Cleveland could capture that elusive championship and finally break the city’s 52 year drought.
Most likely however, the viewership numbers were due to the series featuring the two most popular players on the planet going head-to-head; LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Last calendar year, James and Curry ranked number one and two respectively when it came to individual jersey sales. Both players sit among the mecca of global sports stars in the modern era, right next to Serena Williams, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt.
The NBA has historically done a sensational job at marketing its marquee players to the world.
It started with George Mikan back in the 1950s, before evolving into Magic versus Bird during the 80s and later, the league highlighted some guy named Michael Jeffrey Jordan throughout the 90s.
Fast forward to the present, the NBA is better than ever at marketing its superstars. The league is across all forms of social media and allows unprecedented access. Many stars now have their own public personae and personal brand that the NBA pushes. Besides Curry and LeBron, the league features players like James Harden, who has his own ‘fear the beard’ war cry; Kawhi Leonard is sold as the quiet overachiever, while Anthony Davis is known uniquely as ‘The Brow.’
With the revenue of the NBA at an all-time high, it would appear that marketing individual marquee talents is paying dividends for the Association both financially and popularity wise.
Could these such efforts translate to Australia’s local game? If the NBL were to adopt a similar blueprint when it came to marketing the league, it would have no shortage of potential marquee players to sell.
Australian Boomer and current Melbourne United guard Chris Goulding is the high-caliber type of talent the NBL could look to market around. His signing was arguably the most important of the off season, as retaining such talent in the league is key for the NBL. Goulding wouldn’t look out of place on most professional rosters across the world. His ‘CG43’ personal brand is one that has the potential to become very popular. Goulding is playing in the big market of Melbourne and possesses a fan-friendly, high scoring game. The Aussie has a unique image, with his recognisable long hair; the popularity of the guard could explode given the right platform.
Quite often, imports enter the NBL with an already established brand. One such import was Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams, who arrived in Townsville in 2007 as a legend of the New York street ball scene. His nickname ‘Homicide’ was given to him early in his career on the playgrounds of the Big Apple. It distinguished him as a killer on the basketball court. Homicide possessed a trademark mohawk and a swagger that got people talking. His cut throat attitude both on and off the basketball court presented the NBL with a unique character, one that could be portrayed as a hero and villain.
Looking at present day NBL imports, Adelaide guard Jerome Randle is a player that became an instant fan favourite during his first season in the league. The 175cm guard had fans flocking in to watch the 36ers play with his flashy handles and scoring outbursts. Adelaide and Randle had huge successes marketing the Jerome ‘Handle’ Randle (JHR) personal brand. They initiated a hashtag on social media, and had a range of apparel centred around JHR. Such was the impact of Randle’s first season in the NBL, some were questioning if he is the NBL’s greatest import ever.
While that may be argued, the fact that a debate can even begin surrounding the topic proves how popular he is, and how the NBL could piggyback off of his warm personality and skill set alone.
Incoming Perth Wildcats import Jameel McKay could quickly become a cult figure amongst NBL fans with his long dreadlocks, high motor, and incredible athleticism. Cairns big man Nate Jawai is another player that has always been a fan favourite wherever he has called home. Reigning NBL MVP Kevin Lisch who is currently on assignment in Rio with the Boomers, is a genuine star the league could run a campaign around.
Given the success the NBA has had with this strategy, marketing the character and brand of individual players could be a very rewarding option for the NBL. It might very well be the key to the league’s return to prominence, and push basketball on the local scene back into the height of popularity, the way it used to be. It’s too early to tell, but this might be something to look forward to, when the NBL 2016-17 season returns