NBA Pairs Up With Diageo; Crown and Ciroc Get Major Play

Sean 'Diddy' Combs and His Vodka Become 'Toast of the NBA'

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Toast of the league
Toast of the league

The NBA will announce today it has signed Diageo to a multi-year deal as exclusive spirits sponsor. Under the agreement, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Diageo's Ciroc premium vodka will become "The Toast of the NBA."

Starting with the current 2013-2014 season, Diageo will promote its Ciroc and Crown Royal brands across the NBA and NBA Development League while touting Baileys through the WNBA. Diageo succeeds Bacardi, which became the league's first official spirits sponsor in 2010.

The NBA is impressed with Diageo's prowess in advertising brands, including Captain Morgan, Guinness, Ketel One and Johnnie Walker, said Mark Tatum, the NBA's exec VP-global marketing partnerships. As a global league, the NBA wanted to partner with the world's biggest spirits company.

"Diageo has a strong track record for successfully engaging consumers and, in this case, our fans. They do it in a unique and exciting way," Mr. Tatum said. "That storytelling that Diageo is so good at, and the storytelling about our game and our players, is critical to broadening our reach."

Under the deal, Diageo will beef up its TV-ad buys during national NBA game telecasts on ESPN, TNT, ABC and NBA TV. The first marketing effort will be an expansion of Crown Royal's two-year-old "Reign On" ad campaign from Grey, New York. In a TV spot last year, the agency showed NBA legend Julius "Dr. J" Erving emerging from Crown Royal's distinctive purple bag and ordering himself the Canadian whiskey.

Dan Sanborn, Diageo's VP-PR and entertainment marketing, noted Diageo is also investing in sponsored programming. Crown Royal will sponsor a weekly digital series called "Reigning Moments of the Week" on NBA TV. The brand will create two "Reigning Moments" specials, highlighting the top plays from the first and second halves of the season. Actor and TV personality Terrence J will continue to star in "On Point" Crown Royal-branded video segments. The segments appeared on TNT's "Inside the NBA" show with Charles Barkley last season.

Both Mr. Tatum and Mr. Sanborn declined to comment on money involved. But Mr. Sanborn said Diageo's ad agencies, including Blue Flame for Ciroc and Grey for Crown Royal, are already working on new ads playing up the official NBA connection.

Mr. Combs and Diageo forged an unusual deal in 2007 in which the rapper, actor and promoter took the lead on all "brand management" decisions for Ciroc, including advertising, PR, product placement and event marketing. In exchange, Diageo gave Mr. Combs a 50/50 cut of the profits. The spirits maker said at the time Mr. Combs could end up pocketing $100 million from their partnership.

Since then, Mr. Combs has headlined Blue Flame's "Art of Celebration" campaign for Ciroc. In one TV spot, he leads a latter-day Rat Pack through the gaming tables and gin joints of Las Vegas while Frank Sinatra sings "Luck Be a Lady" in the background.

Now, Mr. Combs and Diageo will try to make Ciroc the official "Toast" of the NBA social and fashion scene. The partners will create a Ciroc-branded "lounge" at the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. The vodka will also serve as a presenting partner of Club éne-bé-a during NBA All-Star festivities in February. "It's a way of inserting the brand into this whole notion of 'The Art of Celebration.' It's a direct connection to the drink," said Mr. Sanborn.

SportsBusiness Daily's Terry Lefton first reported that Diageo was close to a multi-year sponsorship deal with the NBA on Oct. 30.

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