Definitely Not the Last Dance

Can Former Men’s and Women’s Basketball Stars Solve “Senior Moments” For Brands And Fans? A New Platform Thinks So…

They are thoughtful, available, speak from experience and resonate with demos older and even in many cases depending on their engagement, younger.

Is the window for athletes just a little older finally coming into focus on a wider scale?

There have been “senior” leagues, where athletes who have left the best parts of their careers try and give it a go again. We have seen it in golf and baseball and tennis, where the senior circuit Champions Series run by Jim Courier has probably made the biggest impact. The Big3 looked to get former NBA players back on the court, and before the pandemic hit, was having a decent amount of success.

Who knows, we are even seeing it now in boxing, where the Legends Only League—a pay-per-view venture led by Mike Tyson—is going to try and get other recently retired but in good shape athletes to return to their respective games, starting with Tyson’s Nov 28 return to the ring against Roy Jones, Jr.

For brands, however, the touchpoint is less about an athlete’s current athletic skills and more about storytelling and resonance. Does the athlete connect the community and, perhaps most importantly, to the casual fan who—even in the most difficult of times—likes to be able to grasp the positivity (and the relevance) of relatable moments of the past.

The perfect example? The recent success of the documentary “The Last Dance,” which reminded slightly older fans of the success of Michael Jordan and the 1990’s Chicago Bulls while at the same time introducing a new fanbase to the incredible highs and crushing failures and challenges along the way experienced by a group of athletes (and coaches) they may only have previously known to the slightest extent.

Now the issue with engaging with athletes whose playing glory days are behind them is the worry that “out of sight, out of mind” is not as sexy as a social media savvy and young athlete we see on a court, pitch or a field consistently.

However, the topsy-turvy world of professional athletes today also has with it some great risk for brands who may not know how best to align with a younger athlete, if you are looking for a longer engaged relationship. That’s where those just away from the game—who still have roles in broadcasting, mentoring, coaching, and even on the business and life experience side—can have a key niche of consistency for brands.

But how do brands find those stories, match them to your brands and, most importantly, aggregate the message so that you can see it in all forms of media?

NRBPA’s Rochelle

This week the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) may have provided a streamlined way that can be a gateway, and maybe a model for other sports. The NBARPA, led by President and CEO Scott Rochelle, announced a unified multimedia front, launching Legends Media & Entertainment (LME).

The unique LME platform will produce, distribute and quantify the wide reaching stories of potentially thousands of the NBA’s—and WNBA’s—biggest stars for both consumers, and for brands who may go searching aimlessly for the right face, right voice and right story to identify with.

The effort not only includes household names of the past like Julius Erving, it involves a younger generation like Grant Hill, the socially savvy Rex Chapman (see example Tweet below), Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Sheryl Swoopes and many others, a wide swath of diverse storytelling that can have mass appeal, all in one place and using print, spoken word, short and long form video, and ultimately events, under one wide-ranging, multicultural umbrella.

“We have over 1,000 men and women in the group, most, if not all, have amazing stories of success, overcoming failure and moving along with vibrant lives beyond basketball,” Rochelle told TMR this week. “While we have many engaged younger players who are deeply involved now more than ever, we think the stories, both the ones you know some of and the ones people have never heard, will transcend generations and make for really compelling content.”

Does aggregating content from beyond playing on the court under one, unified umbrella benefit brands as well as consumers? Industry leaders seem to think so.

“When it comes to creating value for retired athletes, there is tremendous potential in combining forces, particularly within one sports vertical. It’s about access, aggregation and authenticity,” said Jay Sharman, CEO of TeamWorks Media, a veteran in the digital storytelling space. “For those who grew up in a cable TV world, you need to rethink each athlete’s social platforms as an affiliate and the source of the content creation, in this case, the National Basketball Retired Players Association as the ‘network.’ Each passing day, with rare exception, retired athletes’ value diminishes, yet the audience platforms they’ve built, have significant value, when tied together to create scale. Brands like the turn-key nature of packaging safe content, with extensive reach and engagement, singularly focused on one sport/demographic. It’s easier said than done, yet I believe this is one of the ripest areas for value creation in sports.”

“For those who grew up in a cable TV world, you need to rethink each athlete’s social platforms as an affiliate and the source of the content creation, in this case, the National Basketball Retired Players Association as the ‘network.’”

-TeamWorks Media’s Jay Sharman

And for those who can help monetize the content, the value can be in those numbers. The NBRPA works with Athletes First Partners on the sales and marketing of their athletes and platforms.

“Every NBA and WNBA legend has an inimitable story to tell, and advertisers are constantly on the lookout for powerful, influential voices,” added Jim O’Connell, President of Athletes First Partners. “Legends Media & Entertainment provides these athletes with the tools necessary to build and continuously modernize their brands, while also allowing advertisers to leverage those narratives. Aggregating these stories onto a central platform will create a turnkey solution for advertisers looking to connect with compelling voices in basketball.”

Financial services company, The Equitable, successfully activated their sponsorship through the 1980s

And which brands would the one-stop shop help with? We have long seen financial services play in the space, with The Equitable (now part of AXA) being a key sponsor of the “Old Timers Baseball” series in the 1980s that brought former stars back to the game in ballparks around the country.

As brands look to spend dollars and get ROI around sport, financial services, insurance and now health and wellness are seen as key areas of growth. Having a one-stop shop for all forms of media with a deep roster of men and women who want to engage and are learning and growing in a social space that can also appeal, will be very valuable. Most importantly there is buy in for the platform from players of a recent generation who can have appeal to younger disruptive brands as well, and to have women deeply involved in the conversation maybe for the first time.

“We think it’s important to tell these stories, especially in the WNBA,” Hill, the former NBA star and Hall of Famer told Sportico this week. “They’ve been leaders using their platform, speaking truth to power and understanding the power in their voices.”

“The stories of the WNBA players are some of the richest and most unique,” Rochelle added. “Their narratives play out as well today as when they played, and we know this will be a key part of our storytelling going forward. They transcend genders and generations and will have great appeal for any core or casual fan.”

Like any aggregate venture, the stories have to hit a tone of being compelling and authentic. So, having stories of loss and overcoming adversity, as well as the happy ones, will be key. The narrative has to be diverse, so that it draws consumer interest as well as commercial.

Unifying all the efforts as one, Rochelle believes, will help strike that authentic balance at a time when brands need the return and worry about risk and brand damage given tight budgets and turbulent times.

One element that a unified platform offers is the ability to pivot and address key topics both quickly and authentically.

The Legends Live web series pivoted and ran a special live show addressing Milwaukee Bucks players decision to boycott their playoff game last night (Aug 26) with host Trill Withers (a.k.a. Tyler Johnson) joined by Rex Chapman

We saw this just last evening, where the “Legends Live” platform was able to deliver real-time discussions between host Trill Withers and voices such as Rochelle and board member Sam Perkins while the stoppage of play was unfolding in Orlando.

That type of engagement, which involves a heavy social media push that former athletes may not be able to offer up on their own, will be invaluable as this concept matures in the coming months.

Will Legends Media & Entertainment be an engagement template to be replicated across other sports? Some, like retired NFL players, have had some degree of success over the years, while MLB players had their most robust “Old Timers” results decades ago (see The Equitable above). Golf’s seniors have the most successful competitive product with the Champions Tour, but frankly have not been able to expand their appeal beyond one demo (their peers), partially because the efforts have been disjointed or siloed on a brand-by-brand basis.

One umbrella, all forms of media, with deep engagement may just be the way to win, without anyone lacing up shoes, or in boxing’s case, putting on gloves, again.

“We are only limited by time and scale,” Rochelle concluded. “Our goal is to deliver a regular calendar and ramp up and down as needed. The world we live in now is an on-demand one, and as people ask for it, and give us suggestions, we will be able to provide it. There will be no shortage of stories or ideas, but we don’t want to overburden the consumer either. We want quality and useful vs quantity to start.”

A start for vibrant stories that many had thought were at the end of a journey, all under one roof. It’s a worthwhile concept and one that can be a “door opener” for fans and brands, all of whom are adjusting and looking for engagement in sport that can be deeper, and different, in the years to come.

Senior moments welcomed.