Throughout this article we will explore which brands receive the best/worst return on their NBA naming rights sponsorship by analyzing social media affinity from the Zoomph database. First, we will have an explanation of terms, then breakdown the best and worst sponsors by spread. After that we will analyze the best and worst sectors by general affinity, and finally, we will explore interesting insights throughout the league.
Explanation of Terms
Hardcore NBA Fans = Twitter followers that have been identified as having an interest in basketball + follow the official NBA Twitter account.
Hardcore X Team Fans = Twitter followers that use keywords (ex: “Hawks” for the Atlanta Hawks) and follow X team’s official account.
Affinity = The amount of people that follow a certain brand as compared to the population.
Hardcore NBA Fans Affinity = The amount of people that follow X brand divided by the amount of hardcore NBA fans.
Hardcore X Teams Affinity = The amount of people that follow X brand divided by the amount of hardcore X teams fans.
Hardcore NBA Fans Indexed (Affinity) = Hardcore NBA Fans Affinity divided by Hardcore X Teams Affinity.
Hardcore X Teams Indexed (Affinity) = Hardcore X Teams Affinity divided by Hardcore NBA Fans Affinity.
Spread = The difference between:
Hardcore X Teams Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsor divided by the Hardcore NBA Fans Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsor
Hardcore X Teams Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsors competitor’s average divided by the Hardcore NBA Fans Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsors competitor’s average.
Now, it’s time for tipoff.
Top 4 - Best Partnerships by Spread
To simplify spread – the spread is what total value the naming rights sponsor has gained from the sponsorship (a.k.a. the difference in what the affinity is now vs. what the affinity would have been if there was no partnership in place). The higher the spread equals more value gained from the sponsorship.
Portland Trailblazers - Moda
The best partnership by spread is Moda Health for the Portland Trail Blazers. Although Trail Blazers fans have a high affinity for Moda’s competitors compared to NBA fans in general, (which is likely due to the regional nature of competitors), Moda’s spread of 46,770.71 is the highest in the NBA and is also the highest spread analyzed among the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA.
Sacramento Kings – Golden 1
The second-best partnership by spread is Golden 1 and the Sacramento Kings with a spread of 17,775.89. Almost 13 out of every 100 hardcore Kings fans have a social media affinity for Golden 1 Credit Union. This extremely high affinity, compounded with a much lower affinity for big name competitors such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, make for the second highest spread in the league.
Milwaukee Bucks – Fiserv
The third-highest spread among NBA teams is the Milwaukee Bucks and Wisconsin-based financial technology company Fiserv at 2130.88. This high spread is likely due to the low general affinity for the fintech sector, the locality of the company, and the recent NBA championship won by the Bucks at home in Fiserv Forum.
Denver Nuggets – Ball Corporation/Ball Aerospace
While Colorado-based Ball Corporation (originally known for their glass jars) does not register any affinity among Nuggets fans, their biggest subsidiary - Ball Aerospace - ranks high in indexed affinity among Nuggets fans with a score of 45.86. Therefore, when both Ball companies are averaged, the Nuggets have the fourth largest spread of any team at 2102.28.
Bottom 4 - Worst Partnerships by Spread
FTX - Miami Heat
Crypto exchange FTX registers the worst spread among all 29 NBA sponsors. American Airlines was the naming rights sponsor since the arena opened in 1999 until FTX took over as the title sponsor of the Miami Heat Arena in June of 2021. This recent change, along with the recent introduction of cryptocurrency into the market is why FTX currently has the worst spread in the NBA at -2.01.
Crypto.com - Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers
The second worst partnership by spread is the Los Angeles Clippers and Crypto.com at -1.52. Clippers fans have zero social media affinity for naming rights sponsor Crypto.com, plus they have a higher affinity for Crypto.com’s competitors (.25%) than NBA fans in general (.23%). Both factors are a few of the reasons why the LA Clippers and Crypto.com have one of the worst spreads in the NBA.
Do y’all see the pattern yet? Another brand-new sponsor in the crypto sector registering a negative spread. Again, we see Crypto.com - this time for the Lakers - with a spread of -.43, which comes in at third worst in the NBA.
Wells Fargo – Philadelphia 76ers
Wells Fargo and the Philadelphia 76ers ranks as the fourth worst sponsorship by spread. The San Francisco based institution has a higher general affinity among 76ers fans, and these fans even have a lower general affinity for Wells Fargo’s competitors. However, when analyzing the smaller regional banks such as Buffalo-based M&T (sponsor of the Ravens), and Citizens Bank (sponsor of the Phillies), 76ers fans indexed affinity for competitors skews the spread into the red at -.25.
Toyota, the sponsor of the Houston Rockets, and Barclays, sponsor of the Brooklyn Nets, came in behind Wells Fargo for the 5th and 6th worst naming rights sponsorship by spread at -.24 and
4 Best & Worst Sectors by General Affinity Among Hardcore NBA Fans
Note: this percentage is of the naming rights sponsors’ competitors only.
Best in the League
Best (6.0%) – Retail
The best sector by general affinity among NBA fans is the retail sector - seen clearly through Target’s sponsorship of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Six out of 100 NBA fans have an affinity for Target’s competitors (ex: Amazon, Walmart), the most for any sector.
2nd Best (3.0% avg) – Airlines
The second-best sector by general affinity is the Airline sector. United Airlines’ (sponsor of the Chicago Bulls) competitors registered a 3.1% general affinity among NBA fans, while American Airlines’ (sponsor of the Dallas Mavericks) competitors registered a 2.9% general affinity.
3rd Best (1.92% avg) – Communications
The communications sector is the 3rd highest in general affinity among NBA fans. AT&T’s (sponsor of the San Antonio Spurs) competitors have an average affinity of 2.04%, while Spectrum’s (sponsor of the Charlotte Hornets) competitors have a 1.79% general affinity. Brands such as Hulu (3.52%), and AT&T (4.51%) increase the average among Spectrum’s competitors, while brand such as T-Mobile (4.25%) and Verizon (6.18%) increase the average general affinity among AT&T’s competition.
4th Best (1.68%) – Fast Food/Pizza
The fourth best sector for general affinity is the fast food/pizza sector. This can be seen through NBA fans affinity for competitors of Pistons sponsor, Little Caesars. Pizza Hut registered an affinity of 5.15% among NBA fans, while Domino’s registered a close second at 4.81%. I mean, who doesn’t love pizza?
Worst in the League
Worst (.0013%) – Materials Science
Arizona-based Footprint Materials’ (sponsor of the Phoenix Suns) competitors averaged only .0013% affinity among NBA fans. Footprints competitor Vegware had only three NBA fans with an affinity for the brand, while Sustain Pack had six, and Be Green Packaging had four. This means only 4.33 people out of almost 271,000 hardcore NBA fans have an affinity for the materials science sector.
2nd Worst (.10%) –Beauty/Wellness
Orlando Magic sponsor, Amway, is in the beauty/wellness space which is the second lowest sector among NBA fans based on general affinity. On average, only 1 in 100 NBA fans have an affinity for Amway’s competitors, such as Herbalife and Mary Kay.
3rd Worst (.11%) – Health/Insurance
The third worst general affinity sector among NBA fans is the health/insurance sector. While major insurers such as Aetna and Humana were included, Moda is a geographic specific health/insurance company that also has multiple local competitors. This competition such as BCBS Regence, Providence Health and Kaiser Permanente Northwest drove down the affinity among NBA fans as a whole due to their specific locality.
4th Worst (.13%) – FinTech
Both Paycom - sponsor of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Fiserv - sponsor of the Milwaukee Bucks, is in the financial technology industry. Paycom’s competitors registered a .04% general affinity among NBA fans, while Fiserv’s competitors registered .22% in the same metric, for an average of .13% in the sector.
Cross Comparison: Chase vs. Capital One
Chase and Capital One are very similar companies, offering credit cards and financial services to millions of clients across the globe. Capital One has been the sponsor of the Wizards Arena in Washington D.C. since 2017, while Chase Center just opened their doors in 2019. This brand new arena is likely the main reason Warriors fans have not yet gained a large affinity for the brand. So many memories were made in Oracle Arena (a.k.a. - the Arena in Oakland and Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum). The arena was the home of the Golden State Warriors for 48 years and most notably, Oracle was the title sponsor during the Warriors recent legendary run of 3 NBA titles in 4 years from 2015-2018. This recent transition and the lag from moving locations will take time to get used to; but the Warriors winning the 2022 NBA Championship will only help Chase increase in affinity and solidify its position as the sponsor of champions.
Another factor that likely caused a better indexed affinity for Capital One among Wizards fans is that the company’s headquarters is 14 miles from Capital One Arena in D.C., while Chase is based in New York City, over 2900 miles away from the Warriors arena in San Francisco.
The Odd Case of Smoothie King
It is interesting to note that Pelicans sponsor Smoothie King has the 5th highest spread among NBA sponsors (609.76), even though the Pelicans have not had much success since the venue was renamed in 2014 from “New Orleans Arena.” Smoothie King was the only smoothie brand that registered any affinity among Pelicans fans. Pelicans fans are 24.69x more likely to have an affinity for Smoothie King than NBA fans in general.
More Negative Spreads Than Any Other League Analyzed
It is interesting to note that the NBA has the most negative spreads when compared to the NFL (4), MLB (3), and NHL (7). This is likely due to sponsors not being the right fit to begin with, and also the recent renaming of well-established places such as Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Pacers: 2011-2021), Philips Arena (Hawks: 1998-2018), American Airlines Arena (Heat: 2000-2021), and Staples Center (Lakers, Clippers: 1999-2021).
FTX Arena and Crypto.com Arena
Going along with the theme of negative spread, it is interesting to note that while American Airlines was the sponsor of Miami’s arena, the Heat won 6 Eastern Conference Championships and 3 NBA championships. Players such as Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Ray Allen played on American Airlines Arena’s hardwood before a new era arrived in Miami.
In Los Angeles, during the Staples sponsorship, the same excitement that was in Miami made its way to the Staples Center. The Clippers had “Lob City” stars Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin taking the league by storm – one poster at a time. And best of all, Staples Center was the Lakers home during 8 Western Conference Finals Championships and 6 NBA Championships. Fans at the Staples Center regularly saw two of the greatest players to ever set foot on a court: Shaquille O’Neal and the “Black Mamba” - Kobe Bryant.
Sponsorship is a two-way street. Companies must meticulously analyze the situation to make sure the sponsorship is the right fit, and teams must go through the same process to make sure that sponsorship is right for their brand as well. This is why data analytics is revolutionizing the way we view sponsorship in sports. Finding the right fit is hard, but with the proper tools and analysis - both parties win the game.
A special thank you to Zoomph for allowing us to use their platform to collect this data.
Link to the Data: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vRzQCyAk7fcFSZ3zijIvgPHmTO9GVulsXsRYuAgYpdFpqCqvwsaA4s2_yhFDaA-MdHOtFAchHnEiyjD/pubhtml
- Photo Credit: Marshal Smith: “State Farm”
- Photo Credit: Kelli Smith: “American Airlines”
- Photo Credit: Marshal Smith “Smoothie King”
About the Author
Marshal W. Smith graduated from Samford University in December of 2021 and plans to pursue his M.B.A. with a concentration in Sport Business here at Samford once his diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis is in remission. He plans to work with a major sports franchise in marketing or data analytics. Here is a link to his LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/marshalwsmith