The G-League: Gatorade Pays to Rebrand NBA Development League

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Old school basketball fans who got upset when the NBA announced a green light for advertising on its jerseys starting next season have got another thing to call sports radio and rail on about.

PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand has signed a sponsorship deal with the NBA, which took in more than $5.1 billion just for the 2014/15 season, to rebrand the NBA Development League. What’s now known, informally, as the D-League is changing its name to the soundalike, brand-inspired G-League.

The NBA’s minor league already permits logos on its teams’ jerseys, though now Gatorade, the official sports drink of the NBA since the mid-’80s, has bought the right to place its logo on game balls, court floors, jerseys and anywhere else theG-League may show up.

“What we started talking about was a true partnership and how we could leverage Gatorade’s sports science expertise to be able to enhance the performance — the on-court performance — of our athletes in the Development League,” NBA deputy commissioner and COO Mark Tatum told USA Today.

“That’s how we started having these conversations, and then it emerged into entitlement discussions because it was so linked in terms of the efficacy that they could provide to our players, the ability to enhance their performance, and recovery. It made so much sense to us to … align even more closely the two different brands together.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who took over the reins in 2014, told USA Today on his hiring that it was a “top priority” for the league to find a sponsor for the league that would take it “to the next level” – whatever that is.

As the NBA notes, “Putting sponsorships on jerseys is fairly new for the NBA. While other leagues have putting sponsorships on jerseys for several years, including the WNBA, MLS and soccer leagues overseas, the NBA got on board and approved on-jersey corporate sponsorships patches starting next season. The Utah Jazz announced Monday that their patch will be sponsored by Qualtrics and used to raise money for cancer research.”

Gatorade was a natural choice as part of the PepsiCo, which replaced Coca-Cola as a league sponsor in 2015. As Ad Age notes, NASCAR already follows this path by selling naming rights to its flagship race series resulting in the Sprint Cup Series and (Comcast) Xfinity Series.

Gatorade’s name will be on more than the 22 teams currently in the league, since it will expand to 25 teams this coming season. It is important, of course, not to overwhelm a fanbase that is already awash in branding.

Gatorade NBA G-League

“The key … is to position this so it’s not too much in your face,” David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, told the Associated Press. “(The league is) pretty good at striking that blend of what’s appropriate.”

The announcement comes just before the league enters into its annual cash-cow, brand partnership bonanza that is otherwise known as All-Star Weekend.

Such brands as Mountain Dew, State Farm, Bud Light, Foot Locker, Tissot, JBL, Jack Daniel’s, Kia and Under Armour, and many more, are paying to play in the hopes that bringing their activations and logos to New Orleans (and TV screens) will help boost sales.

Personal brands will also be a hot topic at All-Star Weekend.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal notes, “about 100 of the league’s top players and their union are set to discuss a plan that would allow for individual stars to market their own images and profit from associated merchandise, separate from the professional sports organization’s overall marketing deals.”

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