Brand Strategy

Brand All-Stars: How NBA sponsors are taking on All-Star Weekend by teaming up

Google and AT&T partnered up, and Foot Locker is working with brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma, and Under Armour.
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Dylan Buell/Getty Images

· 5 min read

The brands have packed up and headed east from Las Vegas to Indianapolis.

Less than a week after the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend tipped off on Feb. 16, and for some brands, the three-day basketball festival leading up to the 73rd NBA All-Star Game between the Eastern and Western Conferences is a pillar of their sponsorship with the league.

“After tip-off, it’s the next key moment in the season for us,” Julia Cheney, cultural marketing lead at Google, which has a wide-reaching partnership with the NBA and WNBA, said. “It is something that we put a lot of emphasis and focus on.”

For AT&T, another major NBA and WNBA partner, its presenting sponsorship of the weekend’s annual slam dunk contest is the “crown jewel” of its NBA activations throughout the year, according to Sabina Ahmed, assistant VP of sponsorships and experiential.

State Farm’s title sponsorship of NBA All-Star Saturday Night “is one of our tentpole events…with 360-degree support,” Patty Morris, the brand’s assistant VP of marketing, said in an email. Frank Bracken, EVP and chief commercial officer for NBA marketing partner Foot Locker, said All-Star Weekend is “arguably, the Super Bowl of the NBA.”

Brands face stiff competition to stand out, given all the activations taking place on the ground (and online) leading up to the Feb. 18 All-Star Game. But they’re not all playing against each other: Several brands have formed all-star teams of their own to take on the weekend.

All in this together

Throughout the weekend, Google is working with AT&T to encourage fans to visit both brands, Cheney said. The two companies will appear side-by-side at the NBA Crossover fan event at the Indiana Convention Center, and fans that get stamps on a passport from both can be entered in a raffle to win an autographed jersey.

“Having been around these events for a number of years, we look to partner with [other brands] because we know that people are going to do more than one thing,” Cheney said. “We’re good partners with AT&T, so we’re making sure that we’re doing cross-traffic driving opportunities between the two.”

Cheney said she’s well aware Google isn’t going to be the focal point of the average NBA fan’s All-Star Weekend. Still, “we want them to leave with a lasting impression,” she said, so the company set up a range of programming, like the Google Pixel Combine, where fans can participate in clinics with pros including back-to-back WNBA champ Kelsey Plum.

Get your kicks

You don’t have to be a tech or telecom giant to make your own All-Star Weekend team. Foot Locker set up a 50,000-square-foot space called “Home Court” to host clinics, athletes, and other brands, including Nike and Jordan Brand, Adidas, Puma, and Under Armour, Bracken told us.

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“One of the things that we’re really proud of is to be able to bring five brands together under one roof and give each of them their own voice as a brand, but also be the banner or platform of Foot Locker to give all things basketball to consumers and fans,” he said.

In addition to Foot Locker, Puma is working with Cheetos, Porsche, Champs, and British retailer JD Sports, according to Denise Thrasher, its team head of basketball integrated marketing.

“In order to be successful, you have to be able to partner with others,” Thrasher said. “Leverage all the great heat that others can bring, too, and give a little heat to them.”

Head in the cloud

That heat will extend to social media, where brands have plans to promote their activations to fans who aren’t in Indy.

Saturday’s AT&T Slam Dunk contest is the biggest IRL activation of the weekend for the telecom company, but the brand will also be very online throughout the event: AT&T will livestream the arrivals on its AT&T Blue Carpet, offer AR filters of the All-Star mural on Snapchat, and have Shaquille O’Neal film his reactions to the dunks to “take that experience to those that are not on the ground,” Ahmed said.

State Farm is leveraging influencers to post from the LED court that features the brand’s logo, according to Morris, including its mascot Jake From State Farm, who will sit courtside and post highlights on his social channels. (He, too, loves All-Star Weekend, Morris said.)

Google and Foot Locker both plan to share content from their setups on social throughout the weekend for fans that can’t be there in person, and social conversation is one of Puma’s top KPIs, according to Thrasher. Google also leaned into social in the lead-up to the weekend, partnering with comedian and actor Druski and NBA shooting coach Lethal Shooter for a series of videos of Druski training to be “considered” for the All-Star Celebrity Game.

“It’s always important to have an element of tangible, real-life experiences where you can shake your favorite athletes’ hand,” Ahmed said. “But at the same time, you want to be able to have the opportunity to share with your friends and family, or stream it if you’re not physically there.”

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