Case Study: NBA & MGM International Resorts

Adam Mitchell
  • January 26, 2022
  • Adam Mitchell
Taking a look back at the first partnership of its kind, Adam Mitchell discusses the importance of using data to analyze category behaviors and uses the NBA/MGM sponsorship as a case study.

In 2018, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and MGM Resorts International struck up a historic alliance: MGM had become the official sports gambling partner for the American-based sports property. It was the biggest step a major US league had taken into sports betting and the first time a US league had publicly supported the legalized activity. The deal also underscored the importance of evaluating sponsorship opportunities in more sophisticated ways.

How did they come to that decision? And how can you evaluate similar innovative sponsorship opportunities? By taking a closer look at category behaviors. Here, let’s unpack this idea.


Focusing Sponsorship Data

Think of data like a funnel: at the top, you have your overarching national-level numbers. But to make strategic decisions on investments and budget allocations, you need to begin to narrow that down. Using the NBA as an example again, SponsorPulse tells us that:

  • 112 million Americans engage with the NBA annually

  • 57 million engage weekly

  • 34 million say their interest is growing

Great. This helps tell a story and give context as to the size of the opportunity for sponsoring the NBA. But to understand the size of the opportunity for your brand, specifically, you have to dig deeper and look at the number of people who both love the NBA and have performed a particular category behavior. If you’re a body wash brand, knowing how many people engage with the NBA and have purchased body wash, adds a critical layer of sophistication to sizing your opportunity. If you’re an airline, knowing how many people who engage intensely with the NBA and intend to purchase an airline ticket this year will help you understand the impact that sponsorship opportunity can have on your business.

SponsorPulse parses data across 60+ different category behaviors, including behaviors like:

  • Purchased high performance apparel from a retailer

  • Purchased energy drinks

  • Ordered food from a delivery service

  • Used a streaming service

  • Visited a casino

  • Visited recreational or fitness facilities

  • Switched telecommunications providers

These category behaviors evolve continually in response to our users’ needs and offer a mix of short term (“Have you done X in the last three months?” and long term (“Do you intend to do X in the next 12-18 months?”) insights.

Valuing Opportunities

Let’s turn back to our NBA/MGM deal. The NBA was the first to develop a partnership of this magnitude — so how did MGM value the opportunity? We don’t know exactly, but here’s how we would have crunched the numbers. For starters, it’s not enough to understand the national context: that 112 million engage annually, etc. You need more targeted information to truly paint a picture.Using SponsorPulse data, we can see that 100 million Americans engage with the NBA and have placed a bet on a gaming website. We can also see that the NBA is the third ranked property overall in the US, and when you cut it by the gambling/sports betting category, it rises to the number two spot. There’s a high level of confidence that there is a significant opportunity there for MGM. A slam dunk, if you will. When brands are able to distill the data down into category behavior, they can better grasp the overall nature and size of the opportunity and right-size the investment. It works just as effectively on the flip side. As a property, the NBA was trying to build a case as to why brands should sponsor them. The data, and context, allowed them to tell a compelling story.


The NBA and Wine?

When you look at category behaviors, you can differentiate the size of the opportunity for your brand relative to the overall size of the opportunity for the market. Said another way: if you look at the NBA and drill down into the wine category, for example, you’ll see that among those who drink wine in the US, 64 million also engage with the NBA. You’ve gone from 112 million to 64 million. The context of the conversation around opportunities changes drastically.

It’s a whole different story.

For both brands and properties, context matters in delivering that narrative. Drilling down into category behaviors allows you to better identify and pursue strong, effective, and profitable partnerships.