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As draft puts WNBA in spotlight, the NBA is speeding up ballplayers’ transition to creators

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Basketball is a team sport — but when marketing the game itself, its individual athletes do most of the legwork.

With that in mind, the NBA aims to make it possible for every ballplayer to become a Caitlin Clark by speeding up the production of short-form video and images intended for social platforms. The league has signed a new deal to take an equity stake in Greenfly, a cloud-based workflow software company that collates and distributes sports photography and video footage.

“We actually think of our 400+ NBA players as influencers,” said Bob Carney, senior vp of digital and social content. “We are always trying to help the players grow their profiles and content is the number one way in which players can do that,” he added.

Changing rules governing the use of NIL rights (name, image and likeness) triggered by a 2021 Supreme Court decision mean that college athletes are now able to earn more from their appearances on and off the court. This week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association altered its policies to allow student athletes to negotiate brand deals. The NBA’s strategy leans into that shift and hopes that more high profile ballplayers will mean a higher profile for the game itself.

The league has used Greenfly to collect and distribute media assets for NBA, WNBA, Junior NBA and G League games since 2018. Courtside photographers upload video and images to the NBA app, before they’re manually tagged and made available to some 11,000 players, teams, broadcasters and the league’s commercial partners. The system also pulls in imagery and video uploaded by fans.

“When a game ends and a player goes to the locker room and picks up their phone, they see a push notification from Greenfly saying that their content from that game is available. When they open up the app, they have their photos from that game and their highlights for them to use on their accounts,“ Carney told Digiday.

Removing friction has benefits for the players and the league. “Speed to publish is the most important aspect,” he said. “We’re trying to capitalize on these incredibly special moments that are happening before, during and after our games … we want to do that as fast as possible.”

Reducing the time spent creating social assets is important for marketers at teams and brands hoping to score points with big game moments, said Amelia Dabell, digital planning director at Fuse, a sports-focused Omnicom Media Group agency.

“We all know how quick social media cycles are,” she said. “To have a chance of being relevant, of people wanting to engage with it, [brands] needs to put out content as quickly as possible.”

Short-form video is a major focus for both players and the NBA’s own social efforts, given the importance of platforms such as YouTube Shorts and TikTok for reaching audiences. Highlights and off-court footage are a priority for the league, its athletes and the influencers that the NBA has granted access. “By doing that, repeatedly, day after day we see audience growth and we see more engagement,” said Carney.

In addition to extending its commercial relationship with the company, the new deal will see the NBA purchasing an equity stake in Greenfly (Carney didn’t share the terms of the deal). Daniel Kirschner, the firm’s CEO, said its software had become central to the league’s content strategy. “This is a real partnership,” he said. “We have a weekly stand-up meeting between the two organizations, we’re always getting feedback and thinking [from them].”

As well as the NBA, Greenfly works with over 40 sports leagues around the world, including soccer’s UEFA Champions League. Though social noise increases the league’s value to advertisers and sponsors, Dabell says access to the league’s media assets provides a significant direct benefit by cutting licensing costs; without NBA access, brands activating around the sport would need to license images from providers such as Getty. “That becomes a huge value point within contracts,” she explained.

It’s also useful for athletes as they build up profiles as off-court creators. Matt Fleming, svp of celebrity and influencer at TMA, said: “If Greenfly delivers the content in a seamless manner and players can share on their personal social media channels, that’s definitely great value to the players.”

It’s in the NBA’s interests for as many of its players to straddle the line between influencer and athlete, said Dabell.

“Every player is a brand in their own right now and the more they can grow their brand, the more it grows the prestige of their team and of the league.”

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