17 Jan 2023


Coronavirus and the Future of Sports League Brands

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Academic level: University

Paper type: Research Paper

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This paper analyses the effects of the coronavirus on the national basketball association (NBA) league. The NBA forms the largest and most popular basketball association in the united states and the entire world. The association began in 1946 when it was known as the Basketball Association of America before merging with the national basketball league in 1949 to change its name to the NBA (NBA history, 2020). In the early 1980s, the NBA was plagued with financial storms as a result of the declining television ratings (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). The scenario marked the NBA’s worst operating season. However, when David stern took over the leadership of the association in 1984, the NBA began a radical transformation that would see it become an international entertainment company (Encycloapedia Britannica, 2019). The growth of the association was further boosted by an aggressive marketing campaign highlighted by top players such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. Additionally, the association enjoined other r strategies such as association limits on salaries of players to grow. The growth of the association was also further r enhanced by the more lenient rights of broadcasting for all cable and network televisions in the U.S., and the widened all-star game events (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). Over time, the NBA has maintained popularity and fame as one of the most cost-effective sporting associations in the U.S. However, the COVID-19 pandemic could mark the next mega difficult season for the NBA league after that of the 1980s. The repercussions created by the COVID-19 outbreak are creating the most challenging season for the sporting industry across the globe. Worldwide, major leagues have already been suspended indefinitely, and leagues are languishing in an unprecedented financial turmoil because of a steadily declining branding, sponsorship, and a very low consumer market. The NBA has been at the forefront in making appropriate adjustments and changes to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The NBA’s Responses to the Pandemic 

The NBA has recorded several significant changes since the coronavirus pandemic set in. For example, when the coronavirus pandemic began, the NBA responded by postponing local leagues in several states in the U.S. (Shick, 2020). Furthermore, just recently, the NBA suspended its 2020 season, one of its mega responses since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the association, has been lauded for his quick response to the outbreak of COVID-19. The NBA’s strategic moves are meant to reduce the risks of COVID -19 to players and fans while at the same time securing the sustenance of the association. At the moment, the league is considering other significant changes and adjustments in response to the coronavirus pandemic. First, the league is considering reducing or completely withholding the players’ salaries from April 2020 (Lewis, 2020). Again, the association had initially scheduled to re-open its season at around March 2020, to play without fans. However, due to the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic cases across the world, the resumption of the NBA’s season, it is still not apparent whether the decision is viable (Lewis, 2020). The NBA’s more recent decision to cancel the entire 2020 season is a significant loss to the association and its stakeholders. These frantic decisions mean that a financial crisis may soon face the association. However, the NBA’s management is set to make considerations to come up with strategies and other ways to stabilize the league in financial terms. 

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One of the most notable responses by the NBA as a result of the pandemic is its recent advice to its players to avoid high-fiving fans and to avoid signing autographs ( Associated Press , 2020). The NBA made the communication officially on March 10, 2020, complete with several recommendations in a bid to help its players keep safe during this pandemic. The association also indicated that it was in constant touch and communication with infectious disease experts to keep its players and stakeholders in constant communication and updating them regarding the pandemic ( Associated Press , 2020). At the same time, other stakeholders and franchises, executives, and players have also taken philanthropical approaches and changes to make necessary adjustments to cope with the current situation. Furthermore, employees are also figuring out how to take care of the stadia workers (Blasi, 2020). Other than the teams, several NBA groups in Sacramento, Washington, and Philadelphia, have also pledged their support for the estranged non-player workers (Blasi, 2020). The association’s players also pledged to shoulder all costs due to the lost wages of the workers. Most of the NBA teams have partnered with players to help shoulder the labor costs of the non-player workers who have lost wages as a result of the pandemic to cushion the impact of the pandemic. According to Mike Bass, a partner of the NBA, the association’s teams have already figured out how they are going to help the workers who are no longer working (Blasi, 2020). 

Effects of the Actions on the NBA’s Brand 

As a result of the actions that have been implemented by the NBA management, there have been multiple effects on sponsorship, branding, community involvement, and consumer markets. First, the NBA’s sponsorships have been drastically affected. As a result, the association is facing a potential financial loom if the pandemic fails to show signs of receding. Just like it is the case with other sports, the calling off of seasons means that the NBA will either have to do refunds to its sponsor brands or make fresh contract provisions. This means that the NBA may stand to lose its major sponsors. Furthermore, the community is set to lose massively because of the cancellations made by broadcasters with tv rights, which cover most of the NBA tournaments. Leagues will suffer as well. The NBA management alerted team owners to brace themselves for millions of dollars in losses ( Hercher, 2020). Generally, the NBA is highly likely to face considerable financial hurdles because of the canceled matches. It is important to understand that brands are always paid whenever they miss matches. This means that the NBA may spend a lot on refunding its sponsor brands because of the massive cancellation of matches. 

Another effect is the potential loss of salary to players and the non-playing staff. At the same time, the consumer markets are sharply declining because there are no live matches anymore. First, the players’ salaries have already been cut by a huge margin. The slashing of the players’ salaries is, however, not arbitral; it is under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the association and the NBA players association (Lewis, 2020). Under the definitions of the force majeure event in the CBA agreement, the pandemic qualifies the definitions. Therefore, the consequential cancellation of the NBA’s 2020 season will most likely call for the enforcement of article XXXIX, which is the specific article that defines the conditions on which the players’ salaries have to be cut down. The NBA is, however, in communication with other NBA players’ associations to agree on how the players will be paid their accrued salaries. One of the most probable agreements that the two parties will reach is to hold the players’ remnant salaries in escrow accounts (Lewis, 2020). However, the NBA pledged to provide more information on how it was going to take care of the players’ salaries. At the same time, the NBA and the players’ association are expected to reach a consensus on how to share losses from revenue lost as a result of canceled matches (Lewis, 2020). It is estimated that the NBA has lost several thousands of dollars in one month when the decision to stop tournaments without fans was reached. Ultimately, canceling the 2020 season has many implications for the association itself and to its stakeholders. 

Elements of the Marketing Brands that were affected 

The marketing mix of the NBA is the analysis of its product, promotion, place, and price factors. The NBA’s marketing mix helps in explaining its marketing strategy. One element of the marketing brand that will be significantly affected is the distribution or the place strategy. This is because the NBA has already canceled its 2020 season and tournaments are no longer being held live, or even broadcasted remotely. Furthermore, most of the NBA’s stores across the country have closed. Another marketing mix strategy that has been severely affected by the NBA’s decision to close the 2020 season is the advertisement and the promotion strategy. Most television networks in the U.S. are popular with NBA tournaments (MBA Skool, 2020). Another aspect of the NBA’s marketing strategy that has been severely deprecated is the people factor. The people factor is very significant when it comes to the NBA’s marketing. The association majorly relies on the personalities of its players to promote itself and to draw more fans to the NBA’s stadia (MBA Skool, 2020). However, due to the cancelation of the 2020 season, the people factor is no longer helping in the association’s marketing strategy. 

Measures the NBA has taken 

One of the most prominent measures that Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, has taken since the entry of the pandemic is to cancel all the NBA games and matches and the 2020 season altogether. For example, after the first infection within the NBA was reported, Adam Silver made a prompt decision to stop all league-wide activities immediately. Silver made these quick decisions in a bid to secure the safety of the NBA payers and the fans and also to avoid potential charges if coronavirus breakouts should be confirmed at the NBA matches. However, to adapt the content and the branding strategy, the NBA has shifted its focus to social media. For example, since players, Rudy Gobert and Zion Williamson, announced that they were the first NBA players to contract the pandemic, fans and fellow players moved to social media to pledge their financial support and donations ( Cole, 2020) . Other players have also assumed a warmer approach to how they are dealing with the virus by sharing their online video gaming sessions on Twitch ( Cole, 2020) . 

Online sharing encourages various sporting stakeholders and the NBA’s fans to join in promoting the NBA’s brand during this COVID-19 season. Such strategies have resulted in significant content like the Philadelphia’s 76ers listing that has seen Ben Simmons listed as one of the leading five NBA defenders. In addition to these efforts, the NBA has introduced the NBA Together campaign, which is an engagement campaign meant to respond to the virus scare ( Cole, 2020) . The campaign works through educating and supporting its fans during this COVID-19 season. According to the officials of the association, the NBA Together promotional campaign is centered on four fundamental pillars: “expand the community.” “acts of caring.” “know the facts” and “ the NBA together we live”( Cole, 2020) . Each one of these initiatives is aimed at amplifying the current global safety and health information, sharing guidelines, and keeping people socially active through holding virtual events while encouraging everyone to cope with the impact of the pandemic ( Cole, 2020) . Apart from the official statements that have been published and sponsored in the social media by the association’s management, the NBA has also partnered with Major League Baseball (MLB) association to help in taking a light-hearted approach towards the community affected by the pandemic. The MLB, just like the NBA, has paused all its matches and consequently delaying the start of the regular season. 

The changes that have been effected on the association’s operations, especially its decision to promote the NBA brand online and to support the consumer fan, have had significant changes on the consumers and fans of the NBA. For example, most of the fans who used to watch NBA matches live are now forced to adapt to social media, where the association is making its major updates. 

Effects of the Measures 

According to Pivot Agency, a marketing agency affiliated to sporting, there is still hope and optimism even after the postponement and calling off of games because such strategies are closely tied to communal responsibility issues ( Hercher, 2020) . According to Ben Shapiro, the agency’s founder, the current strategies that have been assumed by the NBA do not and will not pose major economic breakdowns to the sport ( Hercher, 2020) . Shapiro further added that once the pandemic is over, there will be a huge need for sporting events worldwide, something that will boost the various sporting agencies to make a major cover for the several losses that the sports industry has made over the years. However, if the pandemic continues, it could set a big blow to the U.S. sports fraternity. Already, it is confirmed that the Olympics will not take place this year. The Olympics, for example, are one of the global sporting events where NBA players participate in, thus boosting the image of the NBA worldwide. 

The league, the players, the fans, and other stakeholders have been able to adapt to the changes accordingly. For example, as the NBA has moved to social media to keep its players, fans, and other stakeholders together, the association has adjusted its marketing model accordingly. To keep the personalities of its players alive, the NBA resolved to maximize social media platforms. 

Prospect of Success after the Pandemic 

The NBA’s current preparedness towards absorbing the likely financial shockers as a result of COVID 19 indicates that the association may be well prepared to pick up after the pandemic. The initial agreement to hold tournament without fans, according to Adam Silver, would have been eerie and unlikely. However, the NBA is well-positioned to pick up after the coronavirus pandemic for two primary reasons. First, the NBA has robust management. Led by commissioner Silver, the NBA’s management is composed of fast-thinking managers who have already proved their prowess by making critical decisions to catapult the association to new heights. 

Secondly, the fact that the NBA players belong to an association means that the association can handle controversies and issues with its players in an amicable manner. One of the reasons why most sporting associations and leagues fail is because of poor working relationships between the leagues’ management and the players. Luckily enough for the NBA, its players’ association means that it can shield itself from a potential crisis that is likely to face leagues and sporting associations after the pandemic. One of the issues that are most likely to be reported after the plague is complaints from players regarding their accrued salaries. At the same time, most leagues and sporting associations are also more likely to decry financial woes as a result of the withdrawal of most of the sponsors during the COVID-19 season. Worldwide, more leagues have spent much on refunding brands because of missed matches, further crumbling their financial bases. However, the NBA CEO believes that they are going to salvage the situation in the upcoming season (Woike, 2020). 

In preparation to succeed after the pandemic, Silver has envisioned three strategies to help the NBA after the resumption of the league. The first strategy is to return to playing full matches in stadia full of fans as early as the pandemic ends (Woike, 2020). The second option, according to Silver, will be returning to playing games without fans (Woike, 2020). However, this second option proved unviable when Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus on March 11. Still, if the situation would remain as it is, the NBA could probe the decision of playing tournaments without fans. According to Silver, the decision would still be viable by limiting assistant coaches, having less off-site broadcasters, and making use of remote cameras (Woike, 2020). The third strategy is to allow players to participate in tournaments with their health and safety assured. The NBA management board believes this can be achieved by isolation, testing, or quarantine. 

The fact that Silver is positive with the success of the NBA after the end of the pandemic means that it aims at achieving success after its resumption. “with more people stuck at home,” Silver notes, “they are more willing to be entertained than ever before” (Woike, 2020). Furthermore, with the NBA’s strategies on how to revive the association after the pandemic, the NBA is set to resume its normal procedures at the earliest time when the health stakeholders give the sporting industry the go-ahead. The NBA is focused on being among the top movers who will make critical decisions to resuscitate the economy of the world. 

Suggested Strategies to move Forward 

One of the marketing mix strategies that the association needs to adopt is to focus on winning the online gaming fans after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because, at the moment, more people have shifted to online video gaming. As a result, the NBA has an uphill task to regain its massive following of fans. This means that the association must become more creative in terms of inventing online forums where fans can collaborate and contribute to the associations’ consumer market and branding. The NBA can also consider starting the 2021 season as early as December 2020 if the pandemic shall have shown signs of reducing. This strategy will help the association to regain quickly. 

Canceled games and tournaments, stranded stadium workers, lost brands, and unpaid players are some of the negative effects of the coronavirus on the sporting industry. The NBA has made quick responses as a result of the pandemic. One of the most prominent adjustments in the marketing strategy that the NBA has made is shifting its consumer base to social media. Furthermore, players, the NBA organizations, and groups have offered themselves to help the stadia workers who are now jobless, and to support fellow players who have contracted the coronavirus. At the same time, the NBA’s marketing strategies of the association have radically changed due to the cancellation of matches. Overall, the NBA is likely to succeed after the pandemic due to its robust management that has already drawn strategies to help resume the league. 


Associated Press. (2020, March 3). Coronavirus: The NBA tells players to avoid high-fiving fans and autographing items. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/mar/03/coronavirus-nba-tells-players-to-avoid-high-fiving-fans-and-autographing-items 

Blasi, W. (2020, March 17). With NBA games suspended due to the coronavirus, will players and stadium workers still get paid? Market Watch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/with-nba-play-suspended-due-to-the-coronavirus-will-players-and-stadium-workers-still-get-paid-2020-03-16 

Cole, S. (2020, March 24). Coronavirus: How are sports brands responding on social media? Econsultancy. https://econsultancy.com/coronavirus-covid19-sports-brand-responses-social-media/ 

Hercher, J. (2020, March 13). Coronavirus stopped all sports. Will it crush sports marketing this year? Exchanger. https://www.adexchanger.com/digital-tv/coronavirus-stopped-all-sports-right-now-will-it-crush-sports-marketing-this-year/ 

MBA Skool. (2020). NBA national basketball association marketing mix (4Ps) strategy. https://www.mbaskool.com/marketing-mix/services/17801-The NBA-national-basketball-association.html 

NBA History. (2020). NBA History. The NBA Hoops Online. https://nbahoopsonline.com/History/ 

Shick, S. (2020, March 26). What coronavirus means for sports marketing Marketing Dive. https://www.marketingdive.com/news/coronavirus-sports-marketing-covid-19/574932/ 

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019). National Basketball Association. Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/National-Basketball-Association 

Woike, D. (2020, March 19). Lights out: Future of the NBA remains in the dark over coronavirus. Gulf News. https://gulfnews.com/sport/lights-out-future-of-the NBA-remains-in-The -dark-over-coronavirus-1.70492338 

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