NBA G-League: The D-League getting makeover in Gatorade deal

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The G-League is coming.

The NBA Development League is changing its name starting next season to the NBA Gatorade League, a deal that will include a rebranding that will affect the league logo, basketballs, jerseys, on-court signage and digital properties.

Long viewed as a proving and testing ground of sorts for the NBA, what has been known as the D-League will also get to take advantage of Gatorade’s Sports Science Institute — a resource that many elite athletes, including Dwyane Wade and Cam Newton, have used in recent years for testing and evaluation of what exactly their bodies need during competition.

“This isn’t about slapping a name on a league,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said. “This is much, much deeper than that.”

Tatum said this is not the first step toward a name change for the NBA, and declined to detail the length or financial terms of the deal. But he said the part of the deal including GSSI will provide “knowledge to enhance player performance in our game” through nutrition, training and other advances. Gatorade will also incorporate its most recent products and equipment throughout the league.

David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, called the deal “very authentic” because the brands are historically connected and the deal provides the opportunity for brand positioning from both sides. He said leagues look for true marketing partnerships because consumers can be “reluctant to embrace brands they think are inauthentic.”

Putting sponsorships on jerseys is fairly new for the NBA. While other leagues have putting sponsorships on jerseys for several years, including the WNBA, MLS and soccer leagues overseas, the NBA got on board and approved on-jersey corporate sponsorships patches starting next season. The Utah Jazz announced Monday that their patch will be sponsored by Qualtrics and used to raise money for cancer research.

Carter believes there hasn’t been much pushback from fans over jersey patches since they’ve become accustomed to seeing sponsorship everywhere. The patches on NBA jerseys are limited in size to 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches.

“The key … is to position this so it’s not too much in your face,” Carter said, adding that the NBA is “pretty good at striking that blend of what’s appropriate.”

Neither the NBA nor Gatorade said how much the partnership is worth, though Carter said he doesn’t “know that it’s as important from a (financial) numbers perspective as much as it really underscores that the NBA is continuing to look for unique ways to add marketing inventory.

“I think the NBA sees, as they continue to build this league as an asset of theirs, there will be plenty of marketing dollars coming behind it and being innovative with something like this is really the front end of that.”

The development league has grown from eight teams when it debuted in 2001-02, to 25 for next season. There could be some concern that renaming an entire league with a corporate sponsorship opens the door for more overbearing marketing at events.

“Everything’s been very incremental,” Carter said. “You’ve seen it at the collegiate level with jersey patches. I don’t know if it’s a slippery slope. You should ask the people that run the (English Premier League). For them, there is no slippery slope.

“It is a very decided and concerted effort to drive as much revenue from corporate partnerships as possible.”

Gatorade senior vice president and general manager Brett O’Brien talked about several examples of how his company’s science expertise will be used in the D-League, including testing for a player’s sweat type and amount, if they are a fat burner or carbohydrate burner, recovery advances and joint health.

Added D-League President Malcolm Turner: “This promotes performance overall, but helps maximize potential and, ultimately, the product that we have on court.”