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What: The NBA’s Mexico series last weekend is another step forward in the league’s strong presence south of the border.
Why it matters: Priming the pump for Mexican growth is not just smart for fan engagement, it could open a whole new geographic region for NBA action.

The idea of “honoring Latino culture” in professional sports has come a long way from slapping Los on a jersey and bringing in a Mariachi band. While many teams still struggle to figure out exactly how to engage and bring in brands, or as one executive said, identify what exactly “Hispanic” or “Latino” means and how is that audience, the continued value-add in engagement grows exponentially with each passing year. As that fast-growing demo becomes more engaged, more affluent, and more on the radar of professional sports, the opportunity to capture and cultivate a fan base rises on the priority list.

Case in point is the NBA (@NBAand Mexico, which again entered the conversation with this past week’s regular season games in Mexico City. While China, India, and even Europe remain a big priority for brand engagement and fan development, is Mexico the real next stop for expansion?

This weekend again showed the value, and the passion, that the Mexican market can bring.

Now, of course, the NBA isn’t the only league now looking more steadily to the neighbors to the south. The NFL (@NFL), even with its recent field issues in Mexico, has targeted the country (@nflmxas a growth opportunity. Major League Baseball (@MLBhas the most natural connection through the culture of sport and the Latino community, and soccer, especially with the business relationship that exists with the Mexican National Team and Soccer United Marketing and the growing relationship with MLS (@MLSand Liga MX (@LIGABancomerMXstill the most viewed professional soccer matches in all of the Americas on a weekly basis) are all making inroads into the casual, and affluent fan base of Mexico. Heck even hockey, as pointed out in our recent piece on the L.A. Kings grassroots efforts to the south, is trying to find a niche. But will the NBA, always seeming to be a public step ahead of the others in business development, make the biggest and most successful next step?

There are certainly a lot of reasons to see if that’s where the race will lead. The first steps according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the growth of professional basketball not just in Mexico but in the rest of Latin America, are coming. Step one could be as early as next winter, when the NBA will put a G League team in Mexico City. Another step would be the building and fitting of more NBA quality facilities for both in cities throughout the rest of Mexico and Latin America. That obviously will take time.

Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics. Felix Palau, VP Marketing, Heineken will discuss “How to measure ROI and transfer best practices between sports marketing platforms”. Other speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

“I believe we can be the No. 1 sport in the world,” Silver said recently. “When I look at the trajectory of growth, the fact that young people, boys and girls, continue to love this sport, are playing this sport, are engaged in the sport of basketball on social media or with online games, I don’t know what the limit is.”

One seemingly limitless next step is the continued push by teams to market to a growing fan base. This weekend again showed the value, and the passion, that the Mexican market can bring, and none of that was lost on the clubs like the Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagicwho participated this weekend. The other team that continues to grow in popularity in the country? The Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls).

A study commissioned by the NBA in July found that the Bulls were the favorite team of 18 percent of fans in Mexico, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers (20 percent) and well ahead of the defending champion Golden State Warriors (@warriors) (10 percent). The Bulls were also a top-three favorite of 42 percent of fans polled, second again to the Lakers (@Lakers) (45 percent).

“To have a team so well-followed and loved like the Bulls in the country, it’s a very important step for us,” added Raul Zarraga, managing director of NBA Mexico in a conversation with AP last week.

Since the league’s formal return to Mexico in 2014 as part of the NBA’s Global Games initiative, six regular-season games have been played in the country, including a record four in 2017.

With expansion not that close, but certainly starting to be rumored in cities like Seattle for some time in the next decade, 2025 or so, and with the Olympics coming back to North America in 2026, priming the pump for Mexican growth is not just smart for fan engagement, it could open a whole new geographic region for NBA action, an area which may make more sense than the once fertile vision of franchise growth abroad.

Whether Mexico becomes a home for the NBA is anyone’s guess. One is more of a sure thing is that the powers that be see the opportunity, both with existing franchises trying to capitalize on engagement with Latino fans, and for the league as a whole looking to identify and grow in new markets with both brands and fans from the grassroots up.

The times of yelling “Olé” and checking the Latino marketing box around basketball are long gone; business expansion has really arrived.

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What: The Orlando Magic will play the Chicago Bulls (Dec. 13) and Utah Jazz (Dec. 15) in the third straight iteration of the NBA Mexico City Series.
Why it matters: The NBA continues to be at the front of extending its brand beyond the U.S. and Canada.

When the Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagicbattle the Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) on Thursday, Dec. 13, and Utah Jazz (@utahjazzon Dec. 15 in Mexico City, this will become the third straight year that NBA (@NBAmatchups will be held in the nation’s capital. In partnership with Zignia Live (@Zignia_Live), an entertainment company that produces shows throughout Mexico, the Association will also hold games there for the next few years.

The Association will broadcast the game via ESPN (@espnand NBA League Pass International.

The Arena Ciudad de México is the ideal setting to enjoy the magic of basketball as a family, and we are sure that the games will be an unforgettable and memorable experience for all.

Why the Magic? Their 25-57 record last year might not inspire confidence, but the ties go a bit deeper. Zignia Live is connected to Amway (@AmwayUS), the company owned by the family of Rich DeVos, owner of the Magic. The team’s CEO Alex Martins told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, “…[T]he ongoing ties played a role in the Magic’s decision to play in Mexico City. It certainly helps in relation to the promotion of our ownership’s interests in Amway.”

The extension of the NBA brand into international markets has traditionally been much broader than that of other U.S.-based leagues. The NFL had the World League of American Football (later NFL Europe), baseball has held regular-season games in Mexico and Japan and exhibitions in Cuba, and the NHL has the upcoming Global Series in Sweden (Devils vs. Oilers) and Finland (Jets vs. Panthers) as well as previous preseason games in China.

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“Returning to Mexico City for two regular-season games this season reinforces our commitment to growing basketball in Mexico and Latin America,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a statement. “NBA teams have been playing in Mexico for more than 25 years, and the Bulls, Jazz, and Magic organizations are excited to continue the tradition of bringing the live game experience to our passionate Mexican fans.”

Last year, the NBA played four games in Mexico. Per the league’s count, by 2020 there will have been 32 games south of the border since 1992.

“The Arena Ciudad de México is the ideal setting to enjoy the magic of basketball as a family, and we are sure that the games will be an unforgettable and memorable experience for all,” added Zignia Live Director of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships Ignacio Sáenz. “We thank the NBA, the teams and of course, the fans in Mexico for all their support. We continue making history together!”

What does this mean for marketers? The NBA’s partners are all-in, particularly Nike (@Nike), SAP (@SAP), Gatorade (@Gatorade) and Swiss watchmaker Tissot (@TISSOT), who will be involved with the game as well as associated programs like NBA Cares and Jr. NBA.

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