The craziness of the NBA Draft probably left a lot of brand marketers thinking about the value, or lack thereof, of a class that had so much volatility. While most pundits didn’t think this class was extremely strong, to see the consensus number one fall (Nerlens Noel), tied with some potential blockbuster trades, and the ramifications of players who were planning and hoping with their reps to end in one place only to end up in another market, really took what is usually an interesting and predictable night into one full of change, questions and intrigue.
“It’s never an easy fit for young players, but if I’m a brand I have to take a good look at who is now where, how they fit into the system where they are, and will they play enough to impact my spend,” said Chris Lencheski, CEO of Philadelphia based Front Row Marketing, the city where Noel eventually ended up, with the rebuilding Sixers. “It’s not like guys stepped right off the podium and into some mega-endorsement contracts Thursday. It’s going to take some time for all the ramifications to play out. However one thing came across, it certainly was great TV for David Stern’s last go-round.”
While brands will take a wait and see attitude with most of the draftees, the opportunities for success in social responsibility, which can also be tied to brand activation programs, can really be a winning proposition with this draft. Some of the more elute, and well-spoken draftees match up well with the NBA’s programs tied to global growth “Basketball Without Borders,” healthy living “NBA FIT,” and awareness and acceptance of peoples from all backgrounds. Who are some of the winners?
“You look at a high profile athlete like Victor Oladipo, who came from Africa and has worked hard for success at Indiana and now will be in Orlando, and he is a perfect fit for BWB, and you have Otto Porter, staying in DC and from Georgetown who can stay active in the healthy lifestyle campaigns, that Michelle Obama handles, and they seem like great places to start,” said Harrie Bakst CEO of Carnegie Sports and Entertainment, a leading company that works with brands, athletes and philanthropy. “Guys like Trey Burke, who ended up in a smaller market in Utah but has a great sense of responsibility can also emerge from this class in the category, and I think even a guy like Mason Plumlee, thrust into a big market like New York (for the Brooklyn Nets) but from a program like Duke where the sense is team first, can also find ways to shine through. End of the day for all these athletes it is basketball first, but today’s athletes are so much more socially conscious that they have a chance to be impactful in ways that didn’t exist before.”
The lack of many impact players can help on the community and philanthropy side, Bakst also pointed out. The expectations for most of this year’s first rounders to star right away is low, so that gives them time to watch and learn and contribute to the cause side. “If all the Nets trades go though, Plumlee will have time to learn, and he will have more time to devote to bigger picture events, and the same may go for Tim Hardaway Jr. with the Knicks,” he added. “They can both be impactful with their teams off the court at first, as much as on the court.’
Bakst also pointed out that athletes like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who went to Detroit, a city long on cause marketing, can also make a difference quickly off the court. “If you are a marketer would you have loved to see Trey Burke in Detroit, with his Michigan ties, sure,” he said. “However the Pistons need to win now, and Caldwell-Pope can help them make a difference on the court and off the court pretty quickly, so that is a great situation for him.”
So while it may have been chaotic for fans, in the end, this year’s NBA Draft crop may be able to contribute more off the court than on at first this fall, and for people in need, that is as good a message as any.