Why the NBA Is Advertising on HGTV and ABC Family

The League Launches New Emotional Campaign as it Seeks Casual Fans

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HGTV isn't just for beachfront bargain hunts, endless yard sales and junk gypsies. Starting this month it is a new outlet for National Basketball Association ads. The network, along with ABC Family and Nick at Nite on Nickelodeon, are part of the league's ever-broadening media strategy as it continues its hunt for casual fans.

The NBA started getting more aggressive with its marketing strategy last year after longtime insurance marketer Pam El joined as chief marketing officer. The league will continue that approach this year as it launches a new multi-year, global campaign called "This Is Why We Play." Other non-sports outlets in the media plan this year include Comedy Central, MTV, Spike and VH1, among others.

The broader strategy "was successful and that's the reason we are continuing it with this campaign," Ms. El said. She declined to detail exact spending plans. The NBA spent $135.8 million on measured media last year, up from $93.6 million in 2013, according to Kantar Media. The figures include the value of unpaid promotional ads run during games.

The new campaign is by Translation, which was named the NBA's agency of record in December. Media planning and buying is handled by Starcom Mediavest Group, which joined the NBA's roster in June.

Ads include on-the-court action that is typical of NBA campaigns. But there is plenty of footage from outside arenas that spotlight more intimate fan moments, including regular people just shooting some hoops in the backyard.

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The first ad in the campaign (above), also includes a shot of Becky Hammon of the San Antonio spurs, who last year became the first full-time female paid assistant coach in any of the four major sports leagues. Also shown is female referee Violet Palmer and Jason Collins, the now-retired NBA player who in 2013 came out as the first openly gay athlete in the four major sports leagues. They are shown as a voiceover states that "we play … for breaking barriers and paradigms."

The campaign seeks to make an "emotional, human connection," Ms. El said. "It is all about the game, but it's also much, much more than the game itself on the court."

The first ad has plenty of international scenes, too, as the NBA continues to market itself globally. Digital elements of the campaign will target China via internet giant Tencent, as well as Weibo.

Social media activations are also planned for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. The league will promote the hashtag #ThisIsWhyWePlay as it fills social channels with weekly, and sometimes daily, content like videos of classic NBA moments. "That sort of content is endless for us," Ms. El said.

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