NBA Renaming of D-League & Corporate Cronyism

The NBA announced earlier today that their Development League for young prospect players to work their way to the best basketball league in the world, is being renamed and rebranded.

The NBA Development League, long known also by the nickname the D-League, is being renamed the NBA Gatorade League in a deal with one of the NBA’s largest corporate sponsors. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed and the NBA insisted in their media relations efforts today that the agreement is not to simply attach a corporate name to the D-League or to extract more money from a sponsorship relationship.

The league executives, including NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, spoke about the agreement being a vehicle toward further integration of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, which is currently used by star athletes in the NBA and NFL among other leagues. The Institute or (GSSI) as it is also known evaluates the impact that the performance level for athletes at the elite levels of competition endure, and what elements may be needed to provide better nutrition or conditions within the body to enhance that performance level.

The issue at hand, in my view, is that no matter how the NBA wants to spin this deal today, it is for all intents and purposes, a money grab. It is the league using the stature of their brand recognition to extract more revenue from a corporate sponsorship partner. It just looks bad, and it has the media now drumming up names like the “G-League” and “insert sponsor name here” league.

It even caused one reporter at a press event today to ask if the NBA itself was going to follow suit, and sell some type of corporate sponsorship to their name. This question was flatly denied by Commissioner Silver, but I cannot fault the reporter who asked it because the sponsorships have become so out of control in sports. I could envision it: “the NBA brought to you by State Farm Insurance” would be the new name of the league, and every five years they would change the name of the NBA to the next corporation willing to pony up the dough.

It sounds like an exaggeration, but where is the line drawn? This type of transaction today where the NBA essentially names their minor league system after a major corporate sponsor leads reasonable people to take the path of asking what the next deal is going to be centered upon.

The corporations will be pushing different concepts as well because they believe that anything that gets their brand or their name out there is a good situation. I can envision it: “the Kraft Foods NBA Eastern Conference Standings” or the “Coca-Cola Western Conference Standings” where the trophies would be a giant box of cookies or a huge metal Coke bottle.

The decision by the NBA with regard to the D-League, my apologies, now the Gatorade League, is corporate cronyism at its finest. Any entity that gets that type of sponsorship shelled out some large amount of dollars, and with that large expenditure that entity will demand access and influence. The company in this scenario is Gatorade which is a division of Pepsico, and they will want access to players in exchange for this elite level of sponsorship.

The involvement of corporations to this degree should create some type of caution within the offices of that particular major sports league and their franchise owners. However, in the case of the NBA, which has also approved corporate sponsorships on the jerseys of each individual team starting next season that caution seems to be nonexistent.

It is scary to think what type of influence the corporations will be able to wield within the structure of the NBA. The increased revenue is going to have a direct effect on player salary increases, and the salary increases will have an effect on operating costs. The owners, when faced with operating cost increases then start to look at raising ticket prices on the fans and on the businesses who purchase season ticket plans or suites to entertain clients.

The NBA made a bold move today which could have repercussions on the way they handle future corporate sponsorships. They opened the door to a potentially dangerous pathway, where corporate involvement could become detrimental to the integrity of the sport that they were meant to preserve. The cumulative effect on the fans, the customers in this situation, could be a source of a serious miscalculation by the NBA if these types of deals are made in the future.

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