Part 1: The Reversal of NBA Media Strategy and Fan Engagement

Jeff Burke
Jan 11 · 4 min read

Transforming from a Top-down to a bottoms-up media approach

Exhibit 1: Challenges Facing Traditional Sports Media Strategy

TL;DR: The unbundling of media will continue to challenge traditional media methods, requiring the NBA to pursue a more targeted, bottoms-up media approach (Part #1). To accomplish this, the league should support players by funding targeted campaigns (Part #2). The benefits of a player-focused media strategy can be seen by the Marvel Character Development Flywheel (Part #3).

During 2020, COVID-19 fully disrupted sports, forcing professional leagues to pivot and innovate. In the case of the MLB, they experimented with a shorter season and universal DH. Most memorably, the NBA built a new viewing experience with “The Bubble” from the ground up. Despite these adjustments, NBA ratings (and all live sports) continue to trend downward. Some were quick to blame sagging ratings on the social justice stance the athletes were taking, but in reality, ratings have been on the decline due to a transforming media landscape and change in consumer preferences.

The adjustments in consumer preferences requires an adjustment in media strategy. I have created a non-exhaustive, three-part view of how leagues like the NBA can adjust to these trends and drive aggressive long-term fan growth and engagement.

The parts include:

Part 1: The Reversal of Media Strategy and Fan Engagement

Part 2: Driving A Personalized Experience with Coordinated Digital Targeting

Part 3: The Marvel Character Development Flywheel Exhibit 1: Challenges Facing Traditional Sports Media Strategy

For the purposes of the discussion, we will focus on the NBA, arguably the most adaptive and innovative of all of the sports leagues. I have identified three main challenges with traditional media approach: 1) the decline of linear TV, 2) an increase in digital touchpoints, and 3) a decreasing consumer attention span.

The three challenges are a non-exhaustive list, but as a succinct triad, they tell an important story. Linear TV continues to lose viewership as consumers flee to other channels, creating significant marketing complexity. The traditional consumer interacted with professional sports in a handful number of ways: Linear TV, radio, and print. Now, a consumer could feasibly interact with the brand across 10+ channels.

Finally, as the number of digital touchpoints increases, consumers are typically spending a decreased amount of time concentrated on a single thing. A 2015 Microsoft study revealed that human attention span has decreased by about eight seconds. In a 2017 interview, NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, acknowledges the study and continues to mention the possibility of shortening games.

Summary: Media platform fragmentation is being driven by an increase in digital touchpoints and a decrease in consumer attention span. As a result, traditional, mass-marketing channels like Linear TV are declining. This will require organizations to adapt their marketing approach.

Exhibit 2: Top-Down vs. Bottoms-up media approach

To counter these challenges, the NBA needs to continue to view their media and consumer acquisition strategy as a bottoms up approach instead of the traditional top-down approach.

Traditional top-down approach

The league emphasizes national, brand-building media to drive league awareness. The national campaigns drive new consumers to watch the games on Linear TV and in-person. Regional campaigns and promotional events are used as supplemental support to drive team-specific awareness and foot traffic.

Ex., New fan sees an NBA commercial on Nickelodeon, causing them to watch the primetime game. Over time, their love for the sport leads them to support their local team and attend a game for Bobblehead night.

Personalized bottoms-up approach

The league emphasizes hyper-targeted campaigns focused on capturing unique audiences across multiple digital platforms and genres. The context-specific creative connects a new consumer to a relevant part of the league ecosystem. The national, brand-building and local campaigns are leveraged as supplements to build long-term league and team loyalty.

Ex., A new fan sees an NBA player gaming on Twitch. Hours later, the fan sees an ad on YouTube promoting the NBA player’s next game. The fan tunes into the game and begins to grow interest in basketball, causing the fan to look up their local team.

In the traditional top-down approach, the media strategy is league-led and focused on channeling basketball fans to a personal experience to drive loyalty. In the personalized bottoms-up approach, the media strategy is consumer-led and focused on capturing new audiences by connecting to their interests.

The transformation may seem nebulous, but in Part 2, we will discuss actual details around the concept of targeting, as well as a few examples of how it can apply within the NBA context.

Originally published at https://jeffburke.substack.com.

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Jeff Burke

Written by

I write about emerging startups and growth marketing | Management consultant | Former professional athlete | Boston College Alum |

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Jeff Burke

Written by

I write about emerging startups and growth marketing | Management consultant | Former professional athlete | Boston College Alum |

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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