NBA Turns to Goodby for Some Magic

New Agency of Record Breaks David Blaine Ads to Stem Slipping TV Viewership

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SAN FRANCISCO (Adage.com) -- Judging from the league's playoff hoopla, it isn't obvious the National Basketball Association needed an advertising agency, but the National Basketball Association has named Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as agency of record.
Hoping to improve TV viewership and merchandise sales, the National Basketball Association has picked Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as its agency of record.
Hoping to improve TV viewership and merchandise sales, the National Basketball Association has picked Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as its agency of record.

Carol Albert, the NBA's senior VP-marketing, said she hopes to capitalize on the current playoff hype to build a marketing platform for next year. Among Goodby's challenges: TV viewership is flat, even though the league said game attendance is strong, and the NBA also wants to increase merchandise sales and develop its content across numerous media. Other marketing opportunities include reaching out to Hispanics, Ms. Albert said.

League needs real magic
The league broke the Omnicom Group agency's campaign this past weekend with the first in a series of spots featuring illusionist and stunt artist David Blaine that are meant to put a little bit of magic into the game. But sports-marketing analysts believe the NBA will need some real magic to solve some of its problems, among them the image of its players and a recent study that pointed to racial bias among league referees in calling plays.

"We have two major things in the sports marketing world -- product and image. To be successful, you have to have both," said a general manager of a big-league franchise.

Ms. Albert, however, said, "Our player perception is on the rise."

Others, such as Bob Dorfman, VP-creative director, Pickett Advertising, and author of the "Sports Marketing Scouting Report," said basketball "is a magical game when everybody plays full speed and at 110%." The playoffs have made teams such as the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns "hip overnight, more than a David Blaine commercial" could, because they play at an exciting level and have a fan-pleasing, scrappy underdog feel, he said.

Lackluster big-market teams
Mr. Dorfman also traces the declining TV audience to the poor performance of big-market teams such as the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. "The Knicks and Celtics didn't make the playoffs, [and] the Lakers were eliminated in round one," he said. "These days, a New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics matchup is hardly must-see TV." NBA Commissioner David Stern "should do whatever he can to get these franchises back on top."

The league that seems to have gotten its marketing formula right is the National Football League, said Mr. Dofrman; with its short season (16 games vs. 82 for the NBA) every game has to count.

The NBA picked Goodby, which has done projects for Major League Baseball and individual teams such as the Oakland Athletics, without a review. Billings were undisclosed.
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