"McDonald's/NBA TwoBall," a skills competition for 9-to-17-year-olds, is an evolution of "Hotshot Competition," a youth development effort the league retired in the late '80s.
TwoBall will be tested in nine NBA markets later this month,
expanding into all 27 NBA markets next year. An international extension of the program is also in the offing.
NBA Properties, the league's marketing arm, is said to be talking with another global partner, Coca-Cola Co., about getting involved.
TwoBall makes the NBA the latest pro sports league to develop grass-roots programs targeting kids with their corporate sponsors. The National Football League and the National Hockey League have been the most active in creating participatory-based programs that mold young fans into future players and consumers of programming and licensed merchandise.
Nike, which has latched onto emerging sports like hockey and soccer to reach the next generation of consumers, has been the NHL's main partner in that league's grass-roots efforts. The marketer is seeking the same role with the NFL.
"You're seeing other leagues make a big push into youth participation. That's strategically very smart and very necessary for them, because of the cost and logistical difficulties involved in playing their sports," said Rick Welts, president of NBA Properties. "We're starting from the position that basketball is easy to play and is the most played team sport with youth, and is especially strong with girls, where we see an enormous opportunity."
In TwoBall, a team of two works together to make as many shots from key spots on the floor as possible during a fixed time period.
Each team will administer the program in its market, securing 30 to 40 locations for preliminary competitions. Divisional playoffs and championship rounds will be staged during that team's games.
A national championship will be added next year, to take place during the NBA finals.
In the first year, McDonald's will let its local franchises create their own programs, but when it goes national, the company may create a standardized marketing initiative. McDonald's gets promotion rights, on-site signage and in-arena exposure.
Mr. Welts sees TwoBall as a key tool in developing the female audience, which leagues by and large have ignored in their marketing activities.
NBA Properties now handles marketing for the women's U.S. Olympic team, and has already brought together an impressive roster of sponsors and secured TV coverage of games prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
In fact, the NBA is reportedly preparing to announce the formation of a women's pro league-comprised of 12 to 16 teams-that will begin play in April 1997. Reports also have the NBA talking to Nike about managing the league.
A Nike spokesman said it's unlikely the company would be interested in running a league, but reaffirmed its desire to develop the women's game in the U.S.
Mr. Welts wouldn't comment on the NBA's specific role in women's basketball beyond the 1996 Summer Olympics.