Among NBA sponsors, athletic apparel companies have the most natural fit. Their products are essential to the sport at every level. Through sponsoring college and high school teams further up the development pipeline, these companies receive exposure to basketball hobbyists and fans. Moreover, they start building brand loyalty among the very same players who may one day become NBA stars, able to amplify the brands of sponsors as their exposure increases. However, in recent years, these prior relationships have seemed to lose their importance as Steph Curry and Dwyane Wade have switched shoe sponsors for more lucrative deals. While the allure of more money and a more prominent place among a company’s roster will always exists, companies can certainly do more to enhance their ties to all levels of player.
Through investing in America’s basketball talent development pipeline, companies like Nike and Under Armour can help develop players as they pass through critical growth windows early in life. Not only will this improve the quality of players in the NBA, it will also increase the number of basketball players across America. Insuring that every athlete, no matter their talent level, has positive experiences in the sport will increase their positive experience with a given brand. These experiences pay dividends to brands because they can increase the number of avid basketball fans. As these fans age, they will lean heavily on these positive memories as they continue to participate in basketball and make purchase decisions to support that activity. However, the limits of this mutually beneficial relationship extend past youth participants turned fans.
Those few athletes who develop into NBA players and stars could have the same intensified connection to a brand that goes farther than simple youth sponsorship. Players may harbor more loyalty for the brand which, more than sponsoring their youth team or supplying cash considerations, nurtured their development. Furthermore, the endorsements athletes give to brands will have a newfound authenticity. Many NBA players will profess to having loved sneakers almost as long as loving the game. However, a sponsorship forged on legitimate, reciprocal personal experience would give athletes more to sell. Investing in the human development of customers is the most sustainable business practice that exists. Providing financial support, as well as in-kind contributions in the form of training expertise, for an improved NBA talent pipeline would certainly pay dividends for Nike and its customers.