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Fintech, crypto firms boost NBA marketing spending as banks cut back

Chime has its logo on the Dallas Mavericks’ jerseys. LendingTree’s name is worn by the Charlotte Hornets. And the Miami Heat has sold its arena naming rights to the crypto firm FTX.us.

Sponsorships in the National Basketball Association have long been dominated by banks, telecommunications companies and other traditional advertisers. But financial technology and crypto firms are increasingly making their names known through pro basketball, according to a new report from the data provider SponsorUnited.

The shift is partly due to a modest pullback in marketing spending by banks, some of which tightened their belts when the coronavirus pandemic hit and disrupted in-person sports events, according to Bob Lynch, SponsorUnited’s founder and president. NBA teams had to “survive and develop new partnerships,” and they found willing partners in fintech and crypto companies looking to fill the vacuum, he said.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban shook hands with Chime CEO Chris Britt at a game on Jan. 17, 2020, following the announcement that Chime would become the team’s jersey patch sponsor.

Dallas Mavericks

The new crop of marketing deals shows no signs of stopping.

“Most of these brands that enter this space, they don’t just do one deal,” Lynch said. “Oftentimes, these teams will look at that and say, ‘OK, they planted their flag. They started to work within the NBA. Let’s make sure we’re talking to them because there could be opportunities with us as well.’”

One sign of the shift: NBA teams using the SponsorUnited platform to search for partnerships sought out fintech and crypto companies more than any other industry. Crypto.com and Coinbase were among the brands that NBA teams searched for the most.

Overall, the financial services industry was the biggest spender in NBA marketing this season, producing roughly $121.4 million in revenue, according to the report. Next on the list were technology firms, healthcare providers, telecommunications companies and auto makers.

Within the finance category, banks and credit unions are still the dominant spenders, representing 60% of the total. JPMorgan Chase, Capital One Financial, Wells Fargo, TD Bank, Barclays and Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento California, each own the naming rights at an NBA arena. The average NBA sponsorship deal involving a bank was for $2.9 million, the report found.

Still, the number of banks and credit unions with an NBA partnership fell to 64 this season from 78 the previous year.

Fintechs accounted for 9% of all deals this season, up from 5% the prior year. Crypto companies made up less than 1% of marketing dollars spent, but that could increase to 10% next season, since this year’s totals do not include the bulk of the revenues from two partnerships that became official just weeks ago, Lynch said.

Those two partnerships are: FTX.us’s Miami Heat arena naming rights and StormX’s patch on the Portland Trail Blazers’ jerseys.

In two other recent crypto deals, Socios.com, which provides blockchain services to the sports and entertainment industry, has signed partnerships with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics.

Chime’s deal with the Mavericks was announced in January 2020. At the time, Chime CEO Chris Britt said in a CNBC interview that the neobank had been having success in advertising during sports programming. “And so it’s a natural fit for us to think about getting into the NBA and the Mavericks in particular,” he added.

As with any emerging sector, fintech and crypto companies are looking to demonstrate they are “here to stay” and make their brand synonymous with their respective industry, said Adam Grossman, CEO and founder of Block Six Analytics, which works with sports teams, brands and ad agencies.

“They’re definitely looking to say: ‘How can we grow brand awareness, how can we grow market share, how can we become what people think of when they’re thinking about fintech and crypto,’” said Grossman, who is also a lecturer at Northwestern University’s sports administration program.

Sponsorship programs, particularly big-ticket ones like naming rights and jersey patches, are a good avenue for doing so, Grossman said. The NBA’s fan base skews younger, he noted, making NBA sponsorships an appealing investment for some companies.

“With fintech and crypto evolving so rapidly, it’s a good time to really try to make sure that you can grab as much market share as possible,” Grossman said.



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