By Ben Zimmerman, President at Media Design Group
Life in the bubble has been pretty wild so far. As the NBA prepared to resume its season on July 30 from ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney Resorts — a self-enclosed space that’s been affectionally nicknamed “the bubble” — we started to see glimpses of what was to come. Exhibition games now feature shortened quarters. Players are not allowed to spit, clear their throats or lick their hands. At the time of writing, some players have still not yet arrived in the bubble due to testing positive for Covid-19.
When players aren’t learning to adapt to playing basketball in a carefully monitored environment, they’re also adjusting to life off the court. Everything the players do — from practicing to eating to relaxing — will be done within a confined space, and we’ve already started to see some dispatches from players.
Fishing has emerged as the preferred pastime for many players, although there were originally only 14 poles available for use. Promotion for the poolside parties seems questionable at best; Lakers center Dwight Howard was the only player to show up at a late-night DJ event at Coronado Springs, where he livestreamed his solo experience on Instagram.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the league has implemented strict media regulations to keep players isolated from nonplayers as much as possible to mitigate exposure to Covid-19 and protect their privacy. However, if the aforementioned interactions are any indication, the media is going to have a field day with this experiment — and one media company is demonstrating that it’s ready to heed the call.
An Unlikely Pairing
On Monday, July 20, Turner Sports debuted The Arena presented by Tractor Supply, a five-part series hosted by broadcast fixtures Cari Champion, Dwayne Wade, Charles Barkley and Draymond Green. Billed as a storytelling franchise, the TNT show will provide firsthand insight into the league’s reopening. It also promises to create a thought-provoking dialogue for pressing issues including Black Lives Matter, systemic racial injustice and the pandemic.
The new show is also presented by Tractor Supply, which may seem like an unlikely pairing off the bat. Best known as a rural lifestyle retail store that supplies products to home, pet, equine and livestock owners, Tractor Supply may not necessarily be the first company associated with the NBA, whose teams are based in mainly large, urban areas. However, when we take a look at the company’s ethos, the partnership makes sense.
In a statement put out in June 2020 following the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation, CEO Hal Lawton issued a message of unity and equality in the face of social injustice. “While Tractor Supply alone cannot solve injustice, we are committed to being a champion for equality and respect,” he wrote to the company in a message posted on LinkedIn. To further solidify this sentiment — and the company’s core values, which include concepts like teamwork — Tractor Supply has signed on as one of the presenting sponsors of The Arena, which will likely take a stance on relevant, pressing issues like race and inequality.
Brands that speak up during these times have an opportunity to be heard. They can also use their platforms to elevate the voices of others. While Tractor Supply and the NBA may be an unlikely pairing, I think it’s great to see the two organizations on the same page. I believe that sports can be a great unifier — especially when we’re dealing with an organization that has been an ardent supporter of free speech and recently announced it will allow players to wear social justice jerseys that don messages like “Say Their Names,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Sí Se Puede.”
Boosting Brand Equity
The union between the NBA and Tractor Supply also carries implications for business owners looking to boost brand equity. Brand partnerships are a way to quickly build trust with your consumers. Partnering with a beloved brand like the NBA can help a retailer immediately elevate its own message. Because the NBA is known as an organization that stands up for its players and lives by its principles, Tractor Supply can now share its own values with both new and existing customers — all while self-identifying with the NBA’s mission.
Partnerships can also help generate brand awareness. As this article perfectly illustrates, these pairings attract the attention of consumers and the media. Joining forces with the third-most profitable sports league in the world is an ideal way to build buzz and increase market share. In this context, such partnerships are an investment in PR that has exposure on a national level.
Of course, no two partnerships are the same. Generally, both parties must benefit from one another for these coalitions to make sense. While I’ve focused on the ways that Tractor Supply profits from this partnership, it’s important to note that the NBA also benefits from exposure to a rural market that may otherwise remain largely untapped. Finally, it’s essential to know how to best leverage the partnership to reach both brand’s consumers — which means aligning marketing efforts to create a cohesive campaign.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m excited to see live sports back on TV. Here’s hoping that the season goes off without a hitch (and that the Lakers take the crown!). But as a human and an American, I’ll keep an eye on The Arena. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the league — and it’s generated some true cultural and societal icons. At a time when societal issues are so intertwined with daily lives, I think it’s fascinating that the NBA is continuing to provide a platform for its players to speak their minds. Tractor Supply’s decision to partner with an influential organization like the NBA is a powerful move that I hope will further spread knowledge and empower voices.