As the Official Card of the NBA, American Express touches every corner of the organization, from the league executives to the teams to the players to the merchants to the fans. At NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, Feb. 14-16, the brand took the time to engage some of those partners in a relevant setting. Recognizing that, in addition to all of the fan activities taking place, All-Star offers an opportunity to get business done, the brand executed a three-day dining pop-up to engage its business partners, who double as hoops fans.
Throughout the weekend, American Express hosted guests at an exclusive, speakeasy-style venue with rotating menus and curated programming that included Q&As with influential small business owners, designers and NBA stars. The space included original art murals by a Chicago artist, large-format typography by a local illustrator and basketball-centric installations featuring touches of the brand’s signature blue.
On Feb. 14, American Express Global Dining Collection chef Stephanie Izard curated the menu and participated in a discussion with NBA player CJ McCollum about all things food and restaurants. On Feb. 15, Paul Kahan developed the menu, and NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook and his wife Nina talked about life on and off the court, how they built their small business, The Little Ark, and their efforts to support youth literacy.
Wrapping up the program on Feb. 16, Danny Grant created the menu, and designer Don C discussed the limited-edition sneaker he launched for Amex cardmembers, the growth of his small business, RSVP Gallery, and the evolution of streetwear culture in Chicago and abroad. Agencies: Momentum Worldwide (experiential); Day One Agency (p.r.)
To take a deeper dive into the program strategy, we caught up with Deborah Curtis, vp-global brand partnerships & experiences at American Express.
Event Marketer: Let’s talk about the target audience. Who was the pop-up designed for?
Deborah Curtis: The dining pop-up activation was built around this notion of people are here not only to enjoy basketball, but a lot are here to do business. We wanted to be able to, even outside of the games that are going on and all of the activities that are specifically related to basketball, how do we allow those partners to be able to connect with each other. And so the essence of it is really built around that.
EM: The pop-up’s design elements supported that connections theme, right? What was the approach?
DC: We wanted [attendees] to be really comfortable to make connections, feel part of the Chicago vibe. We also had original art murals and large-format typography. So it’s really fun to be able to bring that local flair and local artistry to it while also being able to tap into these exciting personalities to bring that dinner to life.
EM: How do you view the marketing opportunities in basketball?
DC: I think about All-Star and NBA very similarly to the way that we think about our business. Our business is very multi-dimensional, and all about relationships. The NBA and All-Star have offered that kind of partnership for us, whether it’s what we’re able to do for our cardmembers who are constantly going to games for our team partners, to what we’re able to do at All-Star in terms of engaging our business partners through our dining pop-up activation, to the exciting rally that we had last week with our merchant partners here in the Chicago area.
And then of course, engaging the at-home fans through our partnership with Turner, and what we’re doing with Don C around a unique sneaker collaboration. For us, it’s how do we look at the partnership as truly a multi-dimensional relationship and be able to think about how does that value translate to all of our different relationships and customers.
EM: All-Star encompasses a mix of cultural elements. Was that in mind when you were developing this program?
DC: It was absolutely in mind. We work really hard to understand what is the fan looking for out of the experience. We know that All-Star is as much about everything leading up to the All-Star Game as it is the All-Star Game [itself], and that was a really exciting opportunity, particularly given American Express’s incredible legacy and history in the lifestyle space… It was almost bringing art meets food meets sports meets culture—all in one. So not only was it a fantastic dining experience, but our business partners and customers heard from some of basketball’s greats… To be able to bring to life the culture of basketball in the context of great food is something that we were really excited about.”
Photo courtesy: Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images for American Express