The National Basketball Association has gone from online benchwarmer to new media star in the past year, having staked out a marquee place for itself on social media tools such as Twitter. Now it wants to dominate the iPhone.
In a deal that will be announced today with Canadian broadcaster Score Media Inc SCR-T., the pro basketball league is giving the Canadian cable channel The Score the rights to push game highlights free onto the iPhone through its own application.
Score Media did a test-launch of the service on the weekend to coincide with the start of the NBA playoffs, part of a push that it expects to take to BlackBerrys in the near future through a similar application.
After finding itself behind rival Major League Baseball in recent years in terms of online presence, the NBA is trying to stake its claim on mobile through direct partnerships with broadcasters.
The Score will stream digital highlight packages for every NBA game during the season, including in-game highlights. The iPhone deal lets Score Media stream the content free, with advertising backing from the soft-drink brand Sprite, also a major NBA sponsor.
The NBA has inked deals with TSN, Rogers, and Bell Canada before to offer game clips online, or by subscription services on phones, but wants to spread highlights out as much as possible.
The Score deal will eventually be adapted for BlackBerrys, the broadcaster said, as Score Media works on an application for those devices.
At a time when sports leagues such as Major League Baseball have been carefully guarding their content through subscription services, pro basketball is taking a far more liberal approach. "I think the different leagues are taking different approaches to digital media," said Benjie Levy, co-chief operating officer of Score Media.
"The NBA ... has very much adopted a partnership approach where they are approaching media partners, both their traditional television partners as new media."
The NBA believes it has the youngest demographic of any of the major sports leagues, such as the National Hockey League, National Football League and baseball, and it therefore is most suited to mobile highlights.
"This deal has been in the works for a while," said Dan MacKenzie, general manager of NBA Canada. "It is really dependent on, or is somewhat driven by, demand."
In the U.S., the company has partnerships with Turner Broadcasting System Inc., which has built a major mobile presence for CNN. "We see ourselves as leaders in that area," Mr. McKenzie said.
It comes at a time when the NBA is the fourth-most popular brand on Twitter, outpacing marketing stalwarts like Starbucks, MTV and American Apparel, according to TrackingTwitter.com.
Some of that has happened entirely by accident - such as the independent rise of Phoenix Suns star Shaquille O'Neal to become the sixth most-popular celebrity on Twitter - but the NBA is trying to boost its digital presence. Last year, the league brought all of its new media operations under one roof and began experimenting more with mobile during the NBA all-star game. The league offered special camera angles of the game online, which weren't available on TV.
The Score began offering U.S. college basketball highlights on iPhones during the annual March Madness tournament this year.