June 20, 2024

National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver and Kim Kardashian might never have envisaged that they would one day be pictured posing alongside each other.

But on Monday, there they were, shaking hands in front of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York to promote a new partnership between the basketball league and Skims, Kardashian’s shapewear brand which, just days earlier, had stirred controversy by releasing a ‘nipple bra’.

It might seem like an unlikely match on paper, but there’s reason to believe that it’s a good deal for both parties and one that points to a growing trend in sports sponsorship.

What’s the deal?

Skims has become the official underwear partner of the NBA, WNBA and USA Basketball, securing the company the usual bells and whistles like virtual on-court signage during game broadcasts and promotion across the leagues’ social and digital platforms. Kardashian’s brand will also be present at marquee events like the NBA All-Star Game and its new in-season tournament.

Why is a women’s shapewear brand partnering with a men’s basketball league?

Co-founded in 2019 by Kardashian and Jens Grede, Skims was originally known as Kimono before changing its name after accusations of cultural appropriation. Today, it is said to be valued at US$4 billion following a US$270 million Series C funding round in July led by Wellington Management.

That means Skims probably has a decent marketing budget to help promote its first menswear line, which was launched just days before the NBA deal was announced. Up to now, the company has focused on creating women’s products that champion body positivity and inclusive sizing, but is now entering the men’s apparel market, starting with a collection including boxers and briefs, t-shirts, and tank tops.

Skims has used celebrity endorsements to grow its profile since its inception and is predominantly leaning into sports to get itself noticed by male consumers, with soccer superstar Neymar, San Francisco 49ers star defensive end Nick Bosa and NBA All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander featuring in a new marketing campaign promoting the men’s category.

But signing a league-wide deal with the NBA ensures it will be getting regular, national exposure with perhaps the most culturally relevant sports league in the world.

OK, but why does a men’s basketball league need to partner with Kardashian’s clothing brand?

The NBA is widely heralded for being more in tune with younger audiences than most sports leagues, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t on the lookout for new fans – particularly female ones. According to Statista, just ten per cent of women in the US describe themselves as avid fans, compared to 31 per cent of men. In the same survey, 28 per cent said they are casual followers, while 63 per cent are not fans.

And while a lot of people watch the NBA, perhaps some of those that don’t are fans of Kardashian. Whether you agree with how she made her name or not, the reality TV star and her supporting entourage have become central figures in popular culture. In many ways, she is the original influencer, someone who has unashamedly used social media to build a huge following.

Indeed, with 364 million followers, the American has one of the most popular Instagram accounts in the world, while she boasts over 100 million more across X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and TikTok.

If the NBA can leverage the partnership to access some of that audience while also getting remunerated for the use of its IP in the process, then the league will consider it worth any questions it has to field in the meantime.

Are other influencers getting in on the sponsorship game?

Very much so.

One of the most prolific dealmakers of the last 12 months has been Prime, the energy drink founded by YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul. The brand has deals with the UFC, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and multiple soccer clubs, including Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and FC Barcelona.

More recently, Feastables, a snack brand owned by YouTube personality Mr Beast, took on the Charlotte Hornets jersey patch sponsorship. Trick shot specialists Dude Perfect, meanwhile, sponsor the Premier League side Burnley’s academy teams and junior retail shirts.

Is this trend here to stay?

Kardashian might be from a different generation of influencer to the likes of the Pauls and KSI, but what unites them is their ability to monetise younger audiences – something that resonates with all sports leagues.

Influencers are often polarising figures, but those that do support them tend to be highly engaged, fiercely loyal and, dare I say, likely to be influenced towards the products and businesses they promote.

YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul have secured several deals for their Prime energy drink, including with the LA Dodgers

With an increasing number of influencers now launching their own brands, it gives rights holders a more traditional route to partner with them, leverage the direct relationship they have with their followers, and build affinity among different demographics. For the influencers, sports partnerships are a surefire way to grow the credibility of their products on a global platform beyond their own channels.

So don’t be surprised if you see more awkward photos between commissioners, chief executives, and influencers a fraction of their age in the near future.

Nike’s PR gaffe

Of all the sports Nike has come to be associated with, rugby is one that it dabbles in rather than dominates. The company’s comms team is probably wishing it had continued to keep its distance after Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final.

The sportswear giant is never far away from iconic sporting moments, so it was no surprise to see it promptly push out a (now edited) social media post celebrating Nike-sponsored South Africa winning the World Cup, congratulating the Springboks for becoming ‘the first rugby team in history’ to do so four times.

The problem? New Zealand’s women’s team has won the World Cup on six occasions, a stat which social media users were more than happy to fire back at Nike, which also referred to South Africa as the ‘new’ world champions – even though they’ve held that title since 2019.

Uncharacteristically sloppy for a brand renowned for its usually slick creative.

Top dealers

In the same week that Saudi Arabia all but secured the 2034 Fifa World Cup, a new report has shed light on just how much influence the kingdom has on global sport.

Comprehensive research by Play the Game, an initiative run by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies, has identified 323 Saudi sponsorships in sport, more than 100 of which are international deals. That includes 83 sponsorships in soccer, the most of any sport, while Saudi sponsors are also prominent in motorsport (34 deals), golf (33 deals), multisport events (32 deals), esports (30 deals) and equestrian (21 deals).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most prolific spender is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has 139 sports sponsorships through the various businesses it provides funding to, including Neom, Savvy Games Group and Saudi Telecom Company. Aramco, Visit Saudi, and Saudia are also among the other Saudi companies with the most deals.

You can dive into the full dataset here.

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