With just a week to go before the 2017-18 NBA season tips off with a blockbuster doubleheader on TNT, Turner Sports has locked in a new multi-year, multi-million-dollar marketing deal with American Express.
Amex is returning as the halftime sponsor for each matchup in TNT's expanded 67-game regular-season NBA coverage, marking the third year the financial services company will back up Turner's pro hoops showcase. As it has since 2015, Amex will also continue to sponsor the halftime shows in TNT's telecast of the NBA All-Star Game and each of its playoff games.
In a new wrinkle, Amex will serve as the presenting sponsor of the NBA on TNT Road Show, a series of on-site events that includes interactive fan experiences, food trucks, pop-up stores and a musical performance by Snoop Dogg. The first TNT Road Show lifts off in San Francisco on Tuesday, Oct. 17, as the defending champs Golden State Warriors host the Houston Rockets on opening night.
But in what is perhaps most the most significant development, the various facets of casting talent, developing creative and placing the resulting executions will be centralized under the recently-formed Turner Sports Ignite marketing unit.
The idea is to give marketers such as Amex a one-stop-shopping option rather that might appeal more than navigating the labyrinth of consultants, agency networks, distribution outlets and rights holders.
"As an NBA broadcaster for 30 years, we always thought it felt a little weird whenever NBA players would show up in 30-second spots on our air and we weren't part of the process," says Jon Diament, executive VP of Turner Sports ad sales. "With our IP and our longstanding partnership with the NBA, we're in a unique position to help marketers optimize their messaging by amplifying the relationship between the athletes, their brands and all the fans out there."
The first Ignite work for Amex will feature TNT "Inside the NBA" studio analyst, four-time NBA champion and consummate pitchman Shaquille O'Neal in an extension of Amex's long-running "Small Business Saturday" campaign.
The NBA on TNT and NBA TV halftime shows are "platforms that we know our card members and NBA fans love as a unique extension of the game itself," says Jill Hamilton, VP of U.S. media at American Express. "Our partnership with Turner Sports will continue to be an important way for us to engage with NBA fans … through live programming and experiences like the American Express Road Show."
Diament acknowledges that celebrity endorsements always carry a certain inherent risk, given the political climate and the attendant pitfalls of social media. That said, NBA stars are generally at the top of the list for clients looking to reach younger, more affluent consumers. "The huge advantage of having an in with so many athletes is that they are always looking to do deals," Diament says. "Not only are they literally more visible than any other professional athletes, but they actively pursue sponsorships whereas TV actors and movie stars aren't nearly as interested."
An official NBA sponsor in a separate deal, Amex also backs halftime on NBA TV's slate of 106 games.
TNT's NBA coverage tips off on Tuesday, Oct. 17, when the Boston Celtics travel to Cleveland to face LeBron James and the Cavs. Cleveland bounced the Celts out of the Eastern Conference Finals in five games, thereby guaranteeing that the season starts off on a somewhat vindictive note. After the dust settles in Quicken Loans Arena, Golden State will square off against Houston.