NBA Finals: Teams Seizing the Moment

The morning after Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Bucks President Peter Feigin was in Fiserv Arena by 6 a.m. attending to the most pressing business issue at hand: retrieving a lost cellphone left in the arena by one of the team’s owners. Rest assured, Feigin has far more critical commercial efforts on his agenda as well, as the small-market Bucks spend the summer leveraging their first trip to the Finals in 47 years.

For a small-market team like the Bucks and a mid-market team like their opponent, the Phoenix Suns, the Finals represent a coveted and lucrative selling opportunity as the entire industry works to recover from the pandemic.

“You are one of two teams left playing in the NBA and it puts a focus on the team on a global level,” said Feigin, casually dressed in a cream-colored Bucks hoodie and a pair of jeans as he fielded questions from visitors in his office at the Bucks’ headquarters, located a few blocks from the arena.

At hand is an immense, and rare, revenue-generating opportunity for both teams. Milwaukee and Phoenix entered the NBA as expansion franchises in 1968, but prior to this season, the Bucks had not been to the Finals since 1974 and their only title came in 1971; the Suns have also now appeared in the Finals three times, with their previous appearances coming in 1976 and 1993.

The Finals represent a dramatic transformation both on and off the court for the Suns that just a few years ago were one of the worst teams in the NBA. For the Bucks, the Finals continue the team’s upward trajectory that began in 2014, when the team was sold to a group led by Marc Lasry and Wes Edens. Since then, Milwaukee has become one of the most aggressive and innovative teams in the league.


For Phoenix, the biggest piece of business is a new naming-rights deal for its arena that comes as the team wraps up a $230 million renovation. Last week the team announced a naming-rights deal with plant-based engineering company Footprint, which is based in Gilbert, Ariz. Terms were not disclosed, but the team reportedly was seeking a minimum 10-year deal worth $9 million annually. Innovative Partnerships Group represented the Suns in the deal, which will name the arena Footprint Center. Footprint develops and manufactures biodegradable and recyclable technologies and employs more than 1,200 people.

Heading into the Finals, the most recent NBA naming-rights deal was for the Miami Heat’s FTX Arena, which was signed in March and valued at $135 million over 19 years, for an annual average of $7.1 million. The appearance in the Finals put the Suns in a great position to drive the value of one of the most lucrative pieces of team inventory.

“This is an inflection point for our organization,” Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley said of the team’s success. “We are keenly focused on it, and having this level of attention on the Finals — and having the exposure — is valuable to any brand.”

The Suns’ sponsorship inventory also includes the highly visible spot on the floor apron, a deal that will only add to the team’s current level of 12 seven-figure annual deals out of about 120 total sponsors. In addition, Phoenix already has a 95% season-ticket renewal rate. Ticket demand is also fueled by a 1,000-seat decrease in capacity to 17,500 in the renovated arena.

Along with the on-court success and the arena renovation, the Suns already had the advantage of being one of the earliest NBA teams to allow fans to return to the building this season, a situation that further jump-started their business even before their deep playoff run. “The timing is phenomenal,” Rowley said. “We are continuing to leverage the moment, but it is about creating a philosophy of sustained success.”

The Bucks are selling sponsorship to their Deer District plaza, which has been packed with fans during the playoffs.

The Bucks may not have a piece of inventory to sell that’s as significant as naming-rights, but they have some other major assets in the market. “Our inventory is endless,” said Feigin in describing the Bucks’ aggressive and innovative summer sales efforts.

The team has been working for months to sell a sponsorship to its Deer District plaza outside the front of Fiserv Forum. With some 35,000 fans jamming the plaza during both home and away postseason games, and with countless TV shots of those crowds shown on ABC, the Bucks are looking to cash in with an expected seven-figure, multiyear deal for the space. Feigin said the television exposure is “a commercial for activation. We’ve got several prospects and what a better show.”

Inside the arena, the Bucks are creating new inventory and plan to sell a title sponsorship for the suite level, which comprises 34 suites. The team is in the market for its Panorama Club located at the top level of Fiserv Forum. “All will be seven-figure, multiyear deals,” Feigin said of the inventory on the market.

In addition, about one-third of the Bucks’ suites and 33 loft premium products are up for renewal this summer, and the team is pushing for longer and pricier deals.

Of the team’s 100 or so sponsors, about 20 are up for renewal. The sales pitches can tout not just promises but tangible proof of on-court success that brings more value to sponsorships. “It is what we are, not what we could be,” said Matt Pazaras, chief business development and strategy officer for the Bucks.

The Bucks will test a new season-ticket sales strategy by capping full season tickets for next season at 10,000, down from the previous cap of 12,000. It’s a move Feigin said will allow the team to push variable ticket pricing as the Bucks profit from their success.

“In the past, we really needed 12,000 season tickets for that security, but with a winning team, you start to think about what that number should be,” Feigin said. “We will experiment with it. We had no capacity up until 12 weeks ago, but with success, you control your inventory. One of the challenges of being in a small market will always be acquisition and retention. It’s not that deep of a pipeline for fans. We always have to be selling.”

Originally published at https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Journal/Issues/2021/07/19/Upfront/NBA-Finals.aspx?ana=mk_sbj_jo_emjo

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