The SUVs will be presented to four award winners at the end of the season -- and then donated to a charity of their choice.
"This is strictly for charity, we all agreed upon it," Ian Beavis, Kia's VP-marketing, said of the Borrego, which launched Jan. 13 at the Detroit Auto Show.
"The NBA Performance Awards Presented by Kia" is a multiyear marketing sponsorship deal that makes Kia the presenting sponsor for a series of postseason awards, including Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man Award and Most Improved Player, and the Eastern and Western Conference Player of the Month Awards for the remainder of the season.
In addition to earning the award itself, the unusual agreement stipulates that each winner donate the vehicle they receive. "The charitable contribution is very on-trend, really," said John Fraser, president of Omnicom Group's Element 79 Sports. "Most companies are trying to do anything they can to show that they are a good corporate citizen. This is a unique way to do that."
A few executives from around the league privately acknowledged that they have yet to see a Kia parked in their players' private lot. But lest anyone think that no NBA player would dare to be seen driving a Kia, Mr. Beavis said the automaker "will look at [individual player deals] down the road." At press time, players had only made guest appearances at Kia-sponsored events at the local team level.
The sales, marketing and distribution arm of South Korea-based Kia Motors Corp. will also do promotions involving the NBA playoffs, finals and the draft, and become the presenting sponsor of the opening week of the 2008-09 NBA season
"The sponsorship is a win-win for the NBA and for Kia," Mr. Fraser said. "Kia is going to get tremendous exposure with its core audience by being associated with the NBA. They're getting exclusivity in the highest-rated programming, the playoffs and finals."
Deals with teams, ESPN
Kia is in its second year of corporate sponsorship with NBA teams, jumping from 14 deals in 2007 to 16 in '08. It is also in its fifth year as title sponsor of Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN "NBA Shootaround" pre-game show.
"We got strong, positive feedback from our research," Mr. Beavis said of a sports-marketing feasibility study Kia conducted. "The NBA's a great brand; it's a multicultural, exciting league with a great fan base. The ability to activate was important and the league uses lots of platforms to engage. It's a good fit on a number of levels."
Mark Tatum, VP-marketing and promotions for the NBA, said he received positive feedback in discussions with the teams and ESPN about Kia. "[Kia's] brand is so youthful, energetic and dynamic," he said. "We know that they're going to be just as active in creating and developing marketing programs that take advantage of their partnership with the NBA."
At this point, Kia has no plans to venture into other sports leagues, Mr. Beavis said. "We find a strong property and focus on it," he said. "Our philosophy is to be big somewhere, don't scatter, to focus on this with flawless execution."