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Sales of NBA floor space off to slow start

December 3, 2013

This season marks the first that the National Basketball Association is allowing teams to sell advertising space on the court. The area up for grabs, called the “apron,” is just out of bounds along the sideline. |

So far, the market is slow. According to Sports Business Journal, only three teams have sold apron ads.

The Indiana Pacers went first with a deal with the state’s Economic Development Corp. to put the slogan, “A State that Works,” on the floorboards. IBJ reported on the deal in early October.

JPMorgan Chase later added the sideline to the many spaces it owns inside Madison Square Garden during New York Knicks games. According to SBJ, the apron was “not an incremental buy,” meaning it was somehow worked into the bank’s existing sponsorship deal with MSG. And last week Samsung struck a deal with the Miami Heat.

The Heat deal follows the three-year, $100-million partnership with the NBA that Samsung announced in October. The company also has a deal with the team’s star, LeBron James. (At least one person has interpreted this as a hint that James will re-sign with the Heat when his contract expires.)

Prices for the apron deals have not been disclosed. SBJ reports that teams are holding firm in asking $1 million or more per year. In June, Eric Smallwood of Front Row Marketing Services estimated the value of the apron, which is available as a decal for regional telecasts only, at $450,00 to $2.5 million annually.

While three sales/barters in three months is not a breakneck pace, Smallwood says he expects the market will not stagnate for long. Sponsors may be waiting on the sidelines, so to speak, to see if and how the NBA makes the one-year trial permanent. And teams are likely holding out for blue chip buyers that won’t detract from the their own brands.

Smallwood expects 90 percent of the league’s 30 teams will have sold their aprons by the end of next season. “I think it’s a very valuable piece,” he says, “because it’s one of the closest ads to the players.”

Meanwhile, as Samsung pays to be in the hands and at the feet of LeBron James, Apple is getting (apparently) free advertising from Portland Trailblazers players using iPads on the bench to watch replays during games.
 

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