TOKYO (Reuters) - When Golden State Warriors sharp-shooter Stephen Curry pulls up for one of his signature three-pointers in the NBA Finals, millions of viewers around the world marveling at his skills will also see sponsor Rakuten’s logo on his jersey.
The deal is an advertising slam dunk for the Japanese e-commerce company, which has launched partnerships with the five-times NBA champion Warriors and Spanish soccer powerhouse Barcelona to help boost its global brand recognition.
Rakuten’s faith in those teams is close to bearing fruit with a double triumph in its first season of involvement after Barca won La Liga and the Warriors currently lead LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers 2-0 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling to see both teams performing so well,” Rahul Kadavakolu, director of global marketing and branding at Rakuten Inc, told Reuters.
“Teams progress to playoffs and finals and deeper into a tournament, we get more exposure.”
He was quick, however, to stress that Rakuten was committed for the long haul to boost its engagement with global consumers, not merely with advertising logos but via services such as its Viber messaging app through its partnerships with the teams.
“I think this is just the start of a long journey. We still have a long way to go, there are a lot of other things that we need to achieve using these partnerships,” he said.
Prior to the season, the National Basketball Association launched a three-year pilot program to allow sponsorship logos on team jerseys, the first of the big-four North American sports leagues to undertake such a scheme.
So far, 21 of the NBA’s 30 teams have deals, with Rakuten the only non-U.S. sponsor.
Rakuten is a household name in Japan but has lower recognition elsewhere despite global acquisitions in recent years including Viber, shopping rebate site Ebates and e-reader company Kobo.
Kadavakolu said Rakuten felt the time was right to unify the brands under its umbrella and that sports platforms could play a valuable role.
Rakuten had already been involved in Japanese sport and owns the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles baseball team and the Vissel Kobe soccer club, who last month signed legendary Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta.
The NBA deals offer exposure of a brand not only to fans who attend games but also to a “growing, global television audience and the exposure through the myriad forms of global social media such as video highlights, tweets and Facebook posts,” said Chris Cakebread, an advertising professor at Boston University.
He added that the NBA’s efforts to expand globally and attract overseas players had made it attractive for international companies.
Rakuten’s agreement with the Warriors is reportedly worth $60 million over three years, making it the league’s most expensive patch deal, although the company has declined to disclose financial details.
The deal links Rakuten with one of the most successful and popular NBA franchises in recent times with the Warriors well on target to secure a third championship in four years.
In a team packed with big names, Curry and fellow All-Star Kevin Durant rank first and third respectively in NBA jersey sales this year.
It also makes Rakuten the Warriors’ official e-commerce and video-on-demand partner and Viber the official messaging app, and establishes Ebates and Kobo as official partners.
While it will take time to gauge the returns for the sponsorship deals, the NBA is already enjoying a healthy financial boost.
Sponsorship spending on the league and its teams soared 31 percent to $1.12 billion in the 2017-18 season, with the jersey logo deals accounting for $137 million, according to estimates from IEG/ESP, part of advertising agency WPP.
Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by John O'Brien