Field Report: NBA Jam Session - Event Marketer

Field Report: NBA Jam Session

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Houston’s NBA Jam Session drew more than 100 000 fans over five days to
the George R. Brown Convention Center just a block away from the
Toyota Center where the world’s best hoops players flashed their
skills on Feb. 18 and 19. More than 300 staff and 1 500 volunteers made
the Jam Session go and there was no mistaking the NBA’s role in
shaping every aspect of the event right down to brands’ presence. The
focal points of nearly every sponsor exhibit were a rubberized court a
regulation hoop and Spalding basketballs. (How many different ways can
you engage fans by letting them shoot a basketball? A lot apparently.)
Still some brands took their footprints further finding meaningful
ways to connect their products to the festivities—and EM was there. A
snapshot of the 2006 Jam Session.

adidas

Surrounded on three sides by a chain link fence and on the fourth by a
nifty two-story tall cityscape replica adidas’ full-size Three Stripe
Court was modeled after the famed 4th Street Courts in New York City.
Guests were invited in two at a time to shoot hoops against a clock
while event staffers directed traffic. Although there was constant
activity inside the few times we visited there wasn’t much of a clamor
to get in—unlike some of the other exhibits—and the space was more
style than substance. (Aside from that the best reasons to visit were
the sushi trays set up there by the caterers during the Sunday
afternoon VIP reception.)



Cartoon Network

Packed a half dozen distinct activities into its footprint with
brand-appropriate kid-friendly directional signs pointing the way to
each. At the entrance a mini locker-room vignette set the NBA tone—a
few of the lockers were turned into windowed displays giving “player
info” about Cartoon Network characters and the benches were populated
with severely wiped-out parents. The dominant activity gave kids a
chance to strap themselves to a tether bounce around on a trampoline
and shoot a few baskets. There were also free photos with CN
characters two videogame kiosks and 12 easels where kids could learn
step by step how to draw their favorite CN stars. Extra points for the
ample and friendly staff.

EA Sports

The NBA Live Lounge was an open footprint defined by an exposed truss
structure roughly 10 feet-by-10-feet-by-10 feet. Exhibitry was fairly
minimal with all the focus on five Xbox consoles playing NBA Live ’06 and Virtual Slam Dunk.
Visitors could compete on the screens for a chance to win tickets to
the All-Star Game. The “lounge” aspect was covered by a few black
leather sofas around a coffee table in the center of the booth.

FedEx

With a display of national flags worthy of the U.N. posters and videos
of the NBA’s top players from overseas (is Spain’s Pau Gasol such
a draw for Houston fans?) and an oh-so-clever basketball-themed
tagline (“The global leader in assists”) it was all about
international shipping. During a few visits we didn’t see many people
checking out the informational videos and posters which left us
wondering whether the marketing focus was relevant at this venue. On
the other hand people waited on line in the other half of the
footprint to play “around the world ” attempting to make shots in front
of standups of the Eiffel Tower the Sydney Opera House a Mayan
temple and other international landmarks that were placed around the
court.



Hannspree

The manufacturer of custom-designed TVs gave fans a chance to announce
the play-by-play for one of 10 great basketball moments (eight NBA and
two WNBA) then take home a DVD of their calls. It’s a staple of sports
fan fests but kudos for the design—the desktops at which participants
sat were designed like basketball courts. Allowed for two announcers at
a time which made it a big hit with fathers and sons. The area was
never packed when we stopped by but the stations were in constant use.
The product displays were off to the side and behind a backdrop—almost
an afterthought it seemed. But the brand also had the best
unanticipated (we assume) photo op: We saw several parents take photos
of their tykes posing next to two-foot-tall NBA player bobblehead dolls
that were set up next to one of the displays.



Midway Games

Eight kiosks gave guests the chance to play a beta version of the latest edition of Midway’s NBA Ballers
basketball video game—the actual game wouldn’t hit shelves for another
six weeks. Extra screens let friends and family check out the action.
Visitors also could enter a Ballers national tournament (held last
month) for a $100 000 grand prize. In front of a backdrop featuring a
very large picture of endorser Chauncey Billups a dj played music CDs
for a real street vibe. Good addition to the exhibit but the music was
mostly drowned out by the noise from the Jam Session concert stage next
door.



Nokia

The event’s title sponsor had primo space just inside the main
entrance; and a dominant ceiling-hung sign to match. Even with all of
the traffic the wood floor and clean displays (four tables showed off
a total of 56 mobile phones) gave it a streamlined look. Five Internet
kiosks toward the back of the booth purported to offer visitors a
chance to “take a break and go surfing ” but the browsers only allowed
visits to the brand’s web site. Behind the info desk at least 50
people waited in line to have their photos taken in front of standups
of the Houston Rockets team—reps used Nokia 6682 smart phones. There
was also a sticker-photo zone for kids; and Nokia customers could sign
up to receive text messages with info about autograph signings and
special seating at Jam Session events.



RadioShack

Did a nice job of using its space to pick up the theme from the
nationally televised shooting competition it sponsored Saturday at the
Toyota Center. In the “real” Shooting Stars event three-person teams
of current and former pros attempted to make a series of jump shots in
the shortest time possible. At Jam Session Radio Shack let fans try
the same thing a nice way to reinforce the connection. A few feet
away a painter named Kelly Sullivan (apparently also known as “Sulli”)
created large-scale all-star themed paintings and then let youngsters
sign their names. The retailer also set up its omnipresent red club
chair—a nod to its national TV campaign.



Sony PlayStation

Brought its mobile gaming vehicle inside the convention center so fans
could play (what else?) basketball video games. Inside the trailer a
sharp-looking locker room environment—blond wood cabinets evoked an
actual NBA dressing room—hosted four PlayStation 2 units while a
booming sound system played a hip-hop song about well basketball. Six
more PS2s were set up on kiosks outside the truck. And attached to the
vehicle’s exterior were three PlayStation Portable units each with a
headset. It all seemed to hit the target market dead on: When we
visited everyone on the truck appeared to be in their mid-teens or
younger.



Spalding

Focus here was on the company’s Never Flat basketballs which use
“pressure retention technology” to stay inflated longer. (Sounds like a
former boss of ours.) To show them off Spalding took over a full
basketball court—complete with adjacent bleacher seats. During the
weekend the brand deployed a trio of basketball-related world record
attempts: most free throws made within 60 seconds longest continuous
time dribbling a basketball and longest continuous time spinning a
ball on one’s finger (Harlem Globetrotters style). The bleachers were
pretty well populated during the last few minutes of the ball-spinning
record. Spalding also had lab coat-wearing reps giving demos pre-game
in the concourse of the Toyota Center while fans were filing in for
the All-Star Game.



T-Mobile

Current stars (including Paul Pierce and Emeka Okafor) and legends
(Dominique Wilkins) gave fitness and skills clinics on the Courtside
Coach court which drew SRO crowds to the space. T-Mobile did a nice
job of actually taking advantage of the crowds by letting weary
attendees sit and chill on a trio of cushy black leather sofas around a
coffee table with seven phones on display and—in case visitors missed
the point—using a few tasteful signs to label the area as a “refueling
station.” In a petite space immediately next to the sofas were a group
of pedestals supporting mobile phone displays and laptop computers
where fans could enter to win NBA game tickets and DVDs.

Toyota

Go ahead: You try incorporating pickup trucks into a basketball
exhibit. The automaker did just that letting visitors sit inside a
Tundra or Tacoma to play basketball video games that were projected on
a screen in front of the vehicles. Oh and the trucks were rigged to
move with the action of the game. Elsewhere visitors could get a
green-screen photo of themselves flying over defenders for a slam dunk;
customize the exterior of a Yaris subcompact with basketball-themed
decals (another photo op); and dribble a basketball on a dance floor
that produced funky sound effects based on where the ball hit. Toyota
used the event to launch a national sweepstakes involving NBAer Carmelo
Anthony fashion designer Mark Ecko and music mogul Jermaine Dupri
who made appearances during the weekend on a stage in the
exhibit.   em

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