Since 2017, when the NBPA joined its three major sport peer organizations in owning group licensing rights for its players, the union has focused on promoting not just a select few but all of its members, naming its marketing group Think450 to make that point clear. The group’s newest deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev gets the players association closer than ever to achieving that goal.
Sixty-nine players across 23 markets are featured in the Michelob Ultra campaign that marks the brand’s first full season as the NBA’s official beer partner.
Federal regulations have often scared alcohol advertisers away from working with active athletes to avoid making a connection between consumption and physical prowess, according to Ad Age. But AB InBev has been more aggressive in the space over the last several years, including inking in 2018 one of Think450’s biggest deals at the time. Marketing firm Athletes First Partners helped bring the deal to fruition as well.
Think450 executive vice president and general counsel Joi Garner said there was “nervousness” around diving into the alcohol category. “So we went with a crawl, walk, run strategy,” she said. “And I mean really crawl.”
The tie-up started with a Mother’s Day ad. A holiday-themed responsible drinking campaign followed, as Think450 built confidence and players built trust. Garner said the organization used its expanding AB InBev deal to learn how to select the best players for a certain brand and how much those players wanted to know about the ways their likenesses were being used. The deal turned into an official partnership in 2019, setting the stage for this season. Until recently, NBA players hadn’t been featured in Budweiser’s advertising since the early 2000s.
“They are the subject matter experts, knowing the players intimately,” said AB InBev head of U.S. sports marketing Matt Davis. “We look to the NBPA to help us tell authentic stories.”
Think450 has recently expanded into content production as well, with a documentary on the turbulent 2019-20 season currently in the works. Other recent partners include Kia, Instacart and Dove.
Think450 owns NBA players’ group licensing rights, meaning it has control over deals that involve three or more players, the most lucrative of which often come in the merchandise, video game and trading card categories.
The NBA previously paid the union for those rights. But in an era of player empowerment, athletes sought more control over their marketing, with Think450 looking to elevate more personalities and better match brands with interested players.
Said Garner, “One of the great things about having 450 players is we can get a group of guys who are interested in pretty much any given topic.”