Inside the NBA’s social media and OOH strategies for the NBA Finals

This year, the NBA is stepping up its outdoor advertising spend in anticipation of the upcoming NBA Finals, which will begin on June 1. As part of its marketing strategy around the Finals, the league is holding a red carpet event and leveraging social media activations in an effort boost brand awareness and build fans’ anticipation before the games start.

NBA CMO Tammy Henault said she wanted to build anticipation around the first game of the Finals, just as movies and television shows create hype around premieres.

“I’d say that the biggest way that we approached [The Finals] from a creative perspective, is that we really leaned into trying to evoke that intense emotion from how people feel during the Finals and really capture that anticipation that’s unique to us,” said Henault. She added that the NBA is investing more of its marketing budget on out-of-home opportunities for the Finals, as opposed to social media. (Henault declined to share exactly how much the NBA is investing in OOH.)

The NBA’s event marketing strategy for the Finals includes an ad spot featuring South Korean rapper and NBA ambassador Suga of the boy band BTS, which debuted on television and social media on May 9. In addition, the NBA will invest in digital OOH ads in the first city where the teams will play in the Finals, and organically share watch parties through Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok during the Finals.

While the NBA will invest marketing dollars on Twitter during the Finals, tweets will continue to be published organically. Henault did not provide more precise figures regarding spending.

The NBA will have social media teams for its brand’s account as well as the two competing NBA teams’ accounts during the Finals. As part of its strategy, the NBA intends to share highlights of the games in real time, letting fans know the scores, showcasing the fans in the arena and sharing the social activity around the event. According to Sensor Tower data, the NBA saw about a 38% increase in digital ad spend from January to May of this year, compared with the same period in 2022. For both 2022 and 2023, most of the league’s ads were served on Facebook and Instagram.

“The investment there is a key strategy and being able to make sure we’re showing up across the various platforms that they’re engaging with and they can be found on almost every platform,” Henault noted. She added that the NBA always uses a content-driven approach to engage its followers on social, and the league is looking to keep the momentum going following record viewership for the NBA playoffs.

Henault also said that there will be a team capturing content at the arena, and another dedicated production team in the NBA’s social media war rooms. Unlike the NFL, NBA games are fast paced and have only a short delay on live feeds, which means the league’s social teams have a smaller window for publishing content than in other sports.

The NBA will run content through Instagram Reels and TikTok videos featuring key moments from the start of Finals-related activities through the actual games. The league is approaching the two platforms with different styles so the content doesn’t look the same on both platforms or have similar moods.

Per the NBA, TNT, ESPN and ABC were the three most-watched networks in primetime among viewers 50 and under for 13 out of the 14 nights during which playoff games were aired in primetime. The league saw an average of 3.4 million viewers per night during the first round of the playoffs, which is the highest number in nine years for the NBA.

The first round of the NBA playoffs also delivered 2.6 billion views across the NBA’s social platforms and the NBA App (a 46% increase over last year), and significant increases internationally through the NBA League Pass (a 53% increase compared with last year).

According to the social media analytical platform Statista, over the course of last year, the NBA added more than 25 million followers across its social media accounts, including over 11 million followers on Instagram alone. With 75 million Instagram followers, the NBA ranks the eighth most followed brand on the platform.

“The NBA has been proactive in allowing its content to be distributed across several different platforms, which has meant they’ve been able to extend their reach in an increasingly fragmented media landscape,” said Chris Beer, data journalist for the consumer data platform GWI. Beer added that it is important for a sports league to have a presence on the second screen while the action unfolds in real time.

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