NBA TV’s GM School and SAP: Analytics + Reality TV = Great Front Office Auditions

It was the late NBA Commissioner David Stern who once referred to the daily business of sports as the “Ultimate Reality Show” long before “The Kardashians,” “Real Housewives” or “Jersey Shore” cluttered the content pipeline.

So maybe it should not come as that much of a surprise that during the NBA Finals the second edition of “GM School” has garnered some good play on social media, NBA TV and other platforms.

The four-part weekly series runs five contestants through the wringer and gives each an opportunity to show their wares in the highly competitive front office landscape. It has been—and will be as the final episodes play out over the coming weeks—some great viewing, especially for all those looking for an insider’s view of front office life.

For those of us watching from a brand standpoint, what is even more interesting is how and why longtime NBA partner SAP took the leap to engage with the show.

SAP sought a way to not only stand out during the elongated regular season, but separate themselves through the playoffs and Finals as well. (A move that came in even more handy with 2020’s COVID-induced pause and resumption from the bubble.) This show takes the data-driven world that fans love and shows tangible results well beyond the usual use of stats either in a broadcast or for the fantasy aficionado.

For season two, SAP joined with Turner Sports, which produces the show for NBA TV Originals, to advance the vision and the engagement of the show, creating even more data-focused challenges with a multi-episode format where the contestants compete in a variety of high-pressure, analytics-focused challenges.

The challenges mimic the every-day scenarios that an NBA GM faces such as: demonstrating a knowledge of analytics and the CBA, understanding how to defend their decisions with the media in a press conference environment, identifying the best coaching fit for their team, building a roster through the Draft, and even working through trade scenarios.

New challenges for 2020 contestants:

      • Draft Challenge — build the ideal NBA roster and create the best team possible using stats and analytics
      • Media Session Challenge — defend newly drafted teams during a mock press conference, fielding questions from actual NBA reporters
      • Hiring a Coach Challenge — test interview skills with a prospective head coach candidate
      • Trade Rumor Challenge — keep composure while addressing a player who questions the GM about recent trade rumors

“GM School has provided SAP with a unique way to connect with today’s data-minded NBA fan in an authentic and engaging way,” said Dave Martinez, Sr. Director, SAP Global Sponsorships. “It’s a reality TV show and talent discovery platform. Being able to show how stats and analytics are used by NBA executives, while also providing opportunities to get one step closer to pursuing a dream of working in an NBA front office has really resonated with our audience.”

The show also has provided the NBA with some incredibly unique content that has a longer tail for fans who may not even be focused on the results of the Heat and Lakers this week. Their interest is more to SAP’s core offering in areas such as data, STEM and even leadership—looking at those who aspire to work in the business even more so than those who want to watch the games.

“It’s a really unique idea, especially when we see so many young people today stuck at home because of the pandemic and trying to figure out how to use their interest in data and analytics tied to the passion of sport,” added Alex Urrea, CEO, Eduscape, a company that specializes in creating blended learning programs and has deep ties into global data education, especially at the high school and middle school level. “Is ‘GM School’ something that many kids can see themselves doing today? Maybe not. But it helps tell a visual story for where they can combine interests that they have and helps generate a path driven by one of the most advanced technology companies in the world. It’s a great example of extending a brand through a media and sports sponsorship that every league should do.”

“Every fan thinks they’re capable of being a GM, and every GM appreciates the value of data and analytics to deliver the best product on the court,” said Sean Downes, VP, Business Development, Athletes First Partners, who helped bring the partnership to life through A1P’s work with the National Basketball Players Association. “In a unique activation different from what you would see as part of a traditional sponsorship deal, SAP strategically combines both of those pieces through GM School. The technology-driven content fully leverages SAP’s NBA, NBPA and Warner Media partnerships and delivers a product that is both interesting and exciting.“

This is not the first time that SAP has stepped outside the traditional and looked into the creative to distinguish their sports partnerships.

In 2018, SAP and the San Francisco 49ers launched “Executive Huddle,” a connected stadium system designed to help improve how the team captures, reports, and responds to game-day operations at Levi’s Stadium, and that partnership has set a very high standard for fan user experience in venues. They have worked smartly in esports, enhancing Team Liquid’s championship decision-making and development through analytics, and continue to work on performance analytics solutions with some of the biggest teams in the world, from FC Bayern Munich and City Football Club to the San Jose Sharks and the New York Yankees, as well as their analytic work with the NHL and the WTA among other properties.

However as that longer tail, that living and breathing testament to the power of analytics and where it can get you, GM School is different. The difference has made the show a hit…not just for the brand but for all those looking to better understand a career path and what it takes. That unique take helped achieve SAP’s goal for the bubble-infused season, giving them an edge in buzz and share of voice, when most are looking just at the games.

A solid play on content and engagement, with a nice payoff for some potential would be executives, and legions of other future leaders who can better envision a career path. Kim and Chloe move over.

To catch “GM School,” head to the NBA’s YouTube channel, SAP’s GM School site or NBA TV Originals.