In his ads for the chocolate-flavored breakfast cereal Cocoa Puffs, Sonny the Cuckoo Bird performs outrageous stunts to keep his mind off the cereal but gets distracted by words that remind him of it, leading him to utter “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”. As a kid, I used to love these commercials. I knew my parents would never buy me a chocolate-flavored, sugar-coated breakfast cereal (and my teeth thank them), but the animated visual of Sonny’s enthusiasm and excitement has stayed with me for most of my life. After all, sometimes you just can’t contain it.
Fast forward to present day, the NBA locked out its players, the second pro league to do so in 2011, that is leaving many basketball players wondering how they are going to make a living this season. Given that the length of labor stoppages in sports can be indefinite, many players search for loopholes to make up for the impending losses in revenue and fans that come with the strife. One such loophole is that the NBA has said it will not prevent players from working abroad during the lockout.
So while some countries are “sounding the alarm bell” on the S&P downgrade of the United States’ credit rating, Turkey has set its sights on capitalizing on the NBA stoppage to generate new revenue to put fiscal concerns at ease. While there are currently 6 Turkish born players in the NBA, none have done for the Turkish Basketball League (TBL) what Yao Ming has done for basketball in China. However, while the Süper Lig football association (aka soccer) may be the spectator sport of choice for most Turkish natives to date, basketball has slowly taken the country by storm.
In an effort to connect Turkey’s sports fanbase to basketball, companies had to get creative. With a reported 70 percent of the population under the age of 35, and the video-sharing website YouTube banned, any messaging had to be short and crisp to keep the attention of its target audience.
Below is a commerical that Turkish Airlines, sponsor of the Turkish Men’s Basketball team, aired during the 2010 FIBA World Championships (which coicidentally were held in Turkey):
The combination of witnessing the highest (top altitude of five thousand meters), fastest (fastest dunks were shot with the speed of 250 km) game of basketball ever played with members of the Turkish National Team – including current NBA star such as Hedo Turkoglu.
And the NBA isn’t shy about promoting its own interests in the country. Nike, in work with the NBA and NBA All-Stars including Dirk Nowitzki, made a video showcasing 10 basketball courts that were donated around Turkey to ” celebrate the game of basketball and to provide young athletes an opportunity to develop their skills.”
Another tactic utilized by the TBL to bring fans to the games is spend big on the athletes that draw crowds and are active online.
Enter Allen Iverson.
Besiktas Cola Turka signed Iverson, the first overall pick of the 1996 draft out of Georgetown University spent 13 seasons in the NBA, played in 11 All-Star games (winning the MVP for two of those games) and was a four-time NBA scoring champion. And that’s just the local press. He also played on the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2003 World Championships in San Juan and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. So he has drawn crowds on the global scale as well. And that’s not counting his ability to draw crowds off the court with his words. Additionally, he has blogged about his time in Turkey and currently sits at 940,600 likes on Facebook and over 220,200 followers on Twitter. Talk about commanding an audience. But he is just one layer of attention Turkey has been generating since they brought Iverson over.
Deron Williams, another NBA All-Star point guard from the New Jersey Nets signed with Besiktas last month and made his announcement via twitter:
And other NBA players have followed including Turk native Hedo Turkoglu, who lead the Turkish National Team to silver medals at the 2001 and 2010 World Championships, Zaza Pachulia and Sasha Vujacic, who won a NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Not exactly small fish.
But then again, some would say the big fish is still being baited – Kobe Bryant – a man who needs no introduction. While the news media will continue to make a story out of a few known details, the potential signing of Kobe Bryant brings up an important question.
How do you get more players to follow suit?
Well, fine tune your league so that it feels like playing in the NBA. The plays, the tempo, the match ups, the atmosphere – make it feel just like you are tuning into an NBA game – even if the talent isn’t worthy of such recognition. The pick and roll? Bloggers say that play design defined the the end of game 6 of the TBL playoffs and locked up the championship for Fenerbahçe Ülker.
Now it would be unrealistic to assume that with all this clamor being generated during a time of work stoppage to say that the TBL could be the new development league for foreign players. Turkey has a history of turning out role players in the NBA. They provide intangibles and a change of tempo that helps sustain a lead while the stars rest. They also grab the key rebound, provide the key assist or come up with the lose ball or steal that could change the momentum of the game. But they are not the stars.
Given the timing of the lockout, Turkey has the opportunity to make big on their investment of bringing NBA stars to play overseas. Increased visibility, greater competition, more highlight plays, and most importantly for investors – more people in the stands. Turkey is known as a shy social media country that is only now beginning to come out of its shell. They have the tools (brand/ads) in place and they have the players who deliver on the court and love to actively document themselves off the court. Can’t ask for a better plug. If I was a Turkish basketball fan, I would be going cuckoo for NBA players right now.