Puma strikes another basketball deal, but what's the end game?

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Puma's new Clyde Court Disrupt shoe
Puma's new Clyde Court Disrupt shoe 

Puma has struck yet another basketball deal as it throws more money into a game that's been dominated by Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. The brand will sponsor The Basketball Tournament, a $2 million winner-take-all summer hoops tourney broadcast on ESPN that comprises 72 teams of ex-NBA players, former college stars and international players.

The pact caps a week of headline-grabbing basketball deals. They include Puma endorsements with several players expected to be high draft picks in Thursday night's NBA Draft: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr. They mark Puma's first NBA player deals since the late 1990s. To help make hoops noise, Puma also named Jay-Z as creative director.

The Basketball Tournament, now in its fifth season, begins June 29, and attempts to fill a summer hoops void by spotlighting players known well by hoops junkies. One team that includes ex-Syracuse players such as Hakim Warrick is named Boeheim Army, after Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. Puma negotiated a significant presence in the games, 21 of which will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2. Puma says it will offer an endorsement deal to any player competing in the league who goes on to make an NBA team. After last year's tourney, 16 participating players signed NBA deals.

The tournament—which this year is experimenting with a radical end-of-game scoring system—is no NBA, of course. But with other sneaker brands already locked into deals with major basketball properties (Nike has its logo on all NBA jerseys, for instance), the sponsorship gives Puma another way into the sport beyond individual player deals. Financial terms were not not released for the multiyear deal.

"Outside of a partnership with the NBA, TBT [The Basketball Tournament] is a great alternative," says Adam Petrick, global director of marketing and brand for Puma. "As a newcomer in the sport we are really an underdog. So being able to align to an organization that is trying to do new and interesting things, really to be disruptive in a positive sense, was great for us from a values proposition."

For its hoops marketing push, Puma is working with New York-based creative shop Nowadays. While Puma will do some traditional advertising, Petrick says Puma will be "depending more on the earned silo than the paid."

A piece from a Puma Chinatown Market collaboration
A piece from a Puma Chinatown Market collaboration Credit: Puma

In an interview ahead of Thursday night's NBA Draft, Ad Age spoke with Adam Petrick, global director of marketing and brand for Puma, about the brand's hoops moves. Below, a lightly edited transcript.

Why basketball right now for Puma? You've carved out a reputation as a fashion-oriented brand and other brands like Nike are already entrenched in hoops.

We knew that we had to find a space in U.S. sports and ideally in one of the big leagues and the major sports. When we looked at what the opportunities were out there, it seemed very clear and apparent that the one category that aligned most to the positioning and history that we've got in the U.S. market was basketball. Because basketball isn't driven only by the performance on the court. It's the culture around the sport that's almost more meaningful. You have great outlets for culture whether it's the walk-in coverage of the players and the fashion they're wearing or the music they're listening to. We are known in the U.S. market as a style brand, if we had to look at a sport that matched with that positioning, it was basketball.

What will you bring to basketball that Nike and Under Armour and other incumbents haven't already brought?

We can come in and do different things just because at least for the time being we're going to be the newcomer. We believe that our positioning is going to allow us to take a stand on cultural issues. We are going to address issues of social justice, issues of inequality. We are going to try to have a voice and tackle issues that are important to the fans and the culture around the game.

One of the endorsement deals you just signed is with Deandre Ayton, who's from the Bahamas. Could this open the door for Puma to talk about immigration, which is a hot topic right now?

We are going to listen to the issues that are important to our players. ... We would be following his lead and helping him to promote [his stand]. I don't want to speak for Deandre so I don't want to put words into his mouth. I don't know what's important to him.

What exactly is Jay-Z's role? He was originally announced as president of basketball operations and that was later updated to creative director.

The facts are that from a purely technical and specific standpoint, his title according to the deal we've got with him is creative director. It's Jay-Z. So what kind of title are you going to give Jay-Z? He's involved in the category, he's involved in the strategy. He's helping us with the creative direction of the product and the creative direction of the marketing.

As you watch the draft, will you be rooting for your players to be taken by teams in big cities, which could help your marketing?

Does it help us if a player is on a big team in a big city? Sure, of course it does. What we are more focused on is the fine young guys that are going to be representing the brand.

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