TicketManager | Latest NBA Move Continues Borderless Trend in Sports Marketing

Last week’s news that the NBA has relaxed its rules around teams allowing sponsors to promote their partnerships outside North America is just the latest step in U.S. pro sports leagues seeking opportunities to grow revenue and fan bases from around the globe.

Building on initiatives from the NFL and MLB noted in a TicketManager blog post earlier last month, the NBA, which previously capped clubs’ international sponsors at three, has increased that ceiling to 10, as first reported by Sportico.

The change to the league’s International Team Marketing Plan (ITMP) allows each of the 30 franchises to take advantage of the growing interest in the NBA around the world and to do so wherever their team is most relevant, for example having a player or players from a particular country. (The league reported that as of opening night, NBA rosters held 120 international players from 40 countries, including Canada.)

Just a few years ago, teams that wanted to take advantage of interest from overseas brands were limited by league restrictions. Not only did the first iteration of the ITMP in 2019 cap the number of international partners at two, but prior to that, global companies were subject to the same rules as domestic companies banning the use of team marks beyond a 150-mile radius of their home market. (Prior to 2016, the territory limit was 75 miles.)

Consider that when the Australian liquid breakfast brand Up&Go signed a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 to become presenting sponsor of the Cavs’ Australia Day game—as well as the team’s “official Australian breakfast”—it could not use team IP to promote the partnership Down Under. The brand signed a separate agreement with then Cavs guard and Australia native Matthew Dellavedova to help promote the sponsorship.

Now, according to Sportico: “In making deals, teams are able leverage the global reach of their international corporate partners, with a bevy of opportunities including marketing via non-game, behind-the-scenes content, and on partners’ digital and social media platforms.”Given that sponsor activation helps build team brands and fan interest—and could even raise the value of other team sponsors’ deals through additional exposure—the NBA was wise to loosen the reigns on its franchises.

The new rules protect brand agreements already in place through NBA International and NBA China deals and the league is not expected to slow down efforts to sign its own global partnerships. But with fan engagement primarily generated through teams and players, the potential for up to 300 new partnerships should be a rising tide that floats all the boats associated with the NBA.