The NBA is one of the most popular sports in the world, but taking on the NFL at home is another story. In the U.S. television ratings game, the NFL is king.
With the start of the NBA season this week, the league is going to try all it can to somehow bridge the gap in viewership with the NFL: Game 7 of the 2013 NBA finals attracted 26.3 million viewers, less than one-quarter of those who watched the Super Bowl. Although it will be no easy task, the NBA can make strides in the right direction, especially given the troubles swirling around the NFL.
Here are four steps the NBA must take to better compete with America's football obsession.
Diversify its advertising.
The NBA doesn't need any more advertising during the games, but there is a way to increase revenue without directly affecting the product on the court.
The league has long mulled the possibility of placing logos on jerseys as a way to increase revenue. According to an ESPN report, a deal like that could result in more than $100 million per season. The WNBA went that route in 2011 after negotiating a multiyear deal with wireless phone provider Boost Mobile, though with mixed reactions and results.
The NBA is already trying to think outside the box in the advertising world.
"You will see us advertise outside of the ESPN and Turner properties, on networks such as A&E, BET, CNN, MTV, TBS and VH1, to name a few," NBA chief marketing officer Pam El told the Wall Street Journal.
The association will have to reach out to the casual fans. Considering the average regular-season NFL Sunday night game averages more viewers than the NBA Finals, it's clear the NBA has some catching up to do, especially to lure more advertisers.
Avoid another lockout.
After the NBA signed the lucrative television deal worth $24 billion over nine years, commentators immediately wondered how this would impact the league's current collective bargaining agreement. Although the latest lockout obviously didn't affect their success in landing this TV deal, another lockout in 2017 might prove harmful for the league's growth and popularity.
Keep expanding globally.
Internationally, the NBA's popularity is unmatched by any sport that's not soccer. For years the league and its players have reached out to China, the country with the largest population and the second largest economy, to help deploy their product.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is hoping to not only expand their brand in China but also promote the sport in other parts of Asia, according to the New York Times.
El also emphasized this to the Wall Street Journal:
I do believe, given the NBA's global popularity — basketball is the No. 1 participation sport in the U.S. and China, and more than 450 million people world-wide play basketball — that the NBA can rival the NFL. And that is the job I am going to set out to do.
As the NFL continues to try and set up shop in England, the NBA already has an established European league, along with a bevy of international talent. Foreign-born superstars like Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Ricky Rubio help bring more European interest and increase popularity.
Use storylines as a marketing technique.
LeBron James is the league's biggest star since Michael Jordan, and when he announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it created an interesting storyline coming into this season. James is probably the most polarizing figure in all of American sports, whose financial impact is felt on and off the court.
This is why the NBA must continue to market their poster boy as long as he continues to dominate the game. His sponsors have already started drumming up his return in preparation for his first home game.
An ESPN poll earlier this year, one month before James decided to go back to Cleveland, revealed that some fans never "got over" the superstar's 2010 move to the Miami Heat, especially Cavaliers fans.
But with James moving back to Cleveland, he might regain the good graces of fans and help the NBA attract the casual fan.
Along with the Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Clippers will be an interesting team to follow, especially after the Donald Sterling fiasco at the end of last season. Under new owner Steve Ballmer, the Clippers hope to put that dark chapter behind them this upcoming season.
These are just two of the compelling stories that the NBA should publicize during the season to keep drawing in fans, and there are dozens more to be told. But as we saw with Men's Health, there are definitely ways not to do it. It's good to aspire to some titles — let's hope the NBA shoots for the winning one.