The NBA: a social media success

January 27, 2016
Nicola McKelvey

The NBA hit one billion loops on Vine last month, becoming the first sporting organisation to do so. Even though I work at a sports PR agency, I have to admit that I’m not sure one billion Vine loops actually means anything especially as the number of loops keeps increasing even if no-one is watching – back to the age-old argument of outputs vs outcomes. However this article isn’t about measurement, it’s about the NBA and you can’t deny the association its success on digital media – in 2015, it reached 1.5m subscribers on Vine, 28m likes on Facebook and 19.1m followers on Twitter. It has a total of 875 million likes and followers across all its leagues, teams and player pages on all social channels. But why?

The NBA was the first professional sports league to partner with YouTube in 2005 and Facebook in 2007 and it was one of the first companies to sign up to Twitter’s Amplify programme in 2013. Some football teams in the UK and Europe are only just getting their head around social media, ten years after the NBA. There are definitely risks to being the first but the NBA is reaping the rewards now.

With 30 member clubs, the NBA has a lot of content at its disposal – and it makes use of it across all of its channels. It tweets about all of its teams, across all of the leagues, it includes score updates, Vines of key slams, pictures of celebrities at the games, behind the scenes videos, interviews, facts and figures – you name it, they publish it.

The NBA has been playing games outside of the US for almost 20 years now. In 2013, they created the NBA Global Games when they held preseason games in South East Asia, South America and Europe. In 2015-2016, they will play two regular season games outside the US. I don’t know the geographical breakdown in the NBA’s social media fans but the one-off games in China, Japan and the UK can only have led to an increase in the number of fans who use the various NBA channels to stay up-to-date with the latest news.

Of all the leagues in the world, the NBA is one of only a few that has only its logo on it. It does not have a naming rights sponsor, nor did they allow sponsor logos to feature on their on-court jerseys.

nba jersey

However this is set to change. In June 2015, Nike was announced as the ‘official on-court apparel provider’ in a deal that will see its logo on NBA game jerseys from 2017 for the first time. Then in October 2015, it was announced that the car manufacturer Kia’s logo would appear on player jerseys in the All-Star games. This in turn was a deal done by broadcaster Turner who secured the rights to sell the space from the NBA when it was negotiating its own broadcast rights. In a move not generally seen in US professional sports teams, it will be interesting to see how this will impact not only their social media numbers but also their reputation. Will they start promoting their key sponsors or will people stop following them in protest? I for one believe it can only help rather than hinder their growth online as fans of the brand become fans of the NBA too.

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