NBA Canada scores with woman’s B-ball lifestyle brand

Two years ago when kids were all swimming around in basketball jerseys that might actually fit Shaq, women were buying small youth sizes and making do. So, when Andrew Lee, director of consumer products and licensing for NBA Canada, was scanning the stands at a Raptors game and was struck by the number of female fans, and their designer attire - Parasuco, even Prada and Gucci - he realized two things. That the NBA hadn't been marketing well to women. And that basketball could be a killer lifestyle brand. For women.

Two years ago when kids were all swimming around in basketball jerseys that might actually fit Shaq, women were buying small youth sizes and making do. So, when Andrew Lee, director of consumer products and licensing for NBA Canada, was scanning the stands at a Raptors game and was struck by the number of female fans, and their designer attire – Parasuco, even Prada and Gucci – he realized two things. That the NBA hadn’t been marketing well to women. And that basketball could be a killer lifestyle brand. For women.

They did the research, finding that 42% of the NBA fan base is women – with basketball’s female demo skewing higher and younger than other sports – and that more Canadian girls 12-17 play B-ball than any other sport.

Around the same time, the NBA had globally introduced a new hangtag for women’s items, an nba4her designation which simply identified any female gear within the lines of its traditional licensees such as Champion and Reebok. But the hangtag got Lee thinking about what nba4her could be – and it served as an invitation to create a real lifestyle brand under the banner. The research supplied enough ammunition to allow them to take what Lee calls ‘a front-and-centre role in developing and marketing’ the idea. And that’s why – while it’s no Milan – the consumer products nook in the warren of NBA offices at the Air Canada Centre became the birthplace of a new line of tween/teen/young women’s fashion, described as ‘Triple5soul meets Lululemon meets basketball.’

The new nba4her lifestyle brand grew out of a few other observations.

Lee, who used to work in consumer products at Universal, notes that the Hollywood North crowd is a basketball crowd, adding to the sport’s entertainment cachet. He also noted that urban is now mass (even in Canada), and that basketball is firmly part of that culture. All of which led him to believe that the NBA’s consumer products program would do well with a more fashionable women’s brand, as an in-your-face Raptors logo doesn’t really ‘go’ with Parasuco.

Lee, and licensing and marketing co-ordinator Leah Brown, who approves all pieces, signed Bonatex which does FCUK, as it first licensee, and was delighted by the fact that the designers didn’t even know if Toronto had a team – but did know whether pink would still be hot next year. The lifestyle line has no team branding, and is described as ‘fashion silhouette with basketball accents,’ more like a board sports line than a sports league licensed program. The athletic leisure category is currently a hot growth sector, with brands like Puma in the pack, and the nba4her brand serves two niches – lounge gear appeals to the teen set, while a sports leisurewear line skews older – up to twentysomethings.

Nba4her gear was seeded at high-end denim boutiques like Over the Rainbow in Toronto’s tony Yorkville last spring, and in April launched wider in a national Athletes World test, where it is currently selling out. It rolls out nationally in September to 50 stores. For the new fall line launch, the NBA is plotting a fashion extravaganza for Toronto and is working with LOULOU to put together a sampling party with music and the Raptor Dance pack modeling duds, as well as wrapping in some other brands. It is also planning to slide a survey into the festivities, to help refine the nba4her DNA. So far, promotion for the line has included product placement, ads in LOULOU, courtside signage, web, and to add some Fifth Avenue visibility, it’s been picked up in the U.S. at the NBA flagship store.

Lee wants to keep nba4her as a mid- to upstairs brand, and currently, some of the traditional NBA licensees are being influenced by the Canadian brand, whose lifestyle fashion is creeping into U.S. programs. NBA Canada is looking to expand nba4her in terms of product range and retail partners here, ideally those that can add to the brand experience, potentially with exclusive lines.

And what started as a blue sky joke: ‘We could make a basketball,’ with Brown stipulating, ‘only if we do it in blue’ resulted in another Canadian first. Spalding launched the first basketball marketed to women (other than those just sized for females) with the debut of the nba4her pink – and blue – women’s basketball, carried in Zellers.

Basketball’s got bounce

A recent study by Solutions Research Group revealed:

* Basketball is the fastest- growing sport here with the fan base expected to grow by 56% in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto over the next 10 years.

* It’s the leading sport among fast-growing visible minorities in Canada (37%), followed closely by soccer (36%).

* B-ball is #1 among black and Chinese Canadians.

* Hockey is still the #1 sport in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but over the next 10 years it’s anticipated the puck’s lead over the basketball will shrink.