By Alex Dombrowski, International Business Writer
Japanese E-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. has reached a sponsorship deal with the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to expand its’ reach to more American consumers. The deal is reportedly for $60 million over three years and is the result of the first season during which the NBA has allowed independent advertisements on team uniforms.
The company is reproducing its European strategy that it used to rise to prominence. The approach began with purchasing an advertisement on the jersey of the FC Barcelona soccer club, one of the five most valuable sports franchises in the world. For $235 million, Rakuten became the soccer giant’s primary sponsor, which contributed to a large increase in exposure throughout Europe. “The uniform of FCB is exposed to over 2 billion people every month,” explained Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, speaking to reporters last week explaining the Warriors deal in relation to the FCB deal.
Rakuten’s sponsorship of the Warriors is an important step towards increasing the popularity and public image of the firm, placing them in the spotlight of American consumers. This branding and name recognition with consumers has been a major building block for Rakuten’s growth over the years, especially with younger consumers, which is an important demographic to market to when trying to break into the U.S. market. “The Warriors may be a bit smaller, but it’s going to be much more popular in the U.S., which is one of the most important markets for us,” Mikitani added.
2018-19 is the first season that the NBA has allowed advertisements on team uniforms, and while the patch will be much smaller than those worn in soccer, many companies have jumped on the opportunity to put their brand on a sports league that is gaining popularity as quickly as the NBA. Currently, 14 of the 30 NBA teams have sold jersey patches, a move that will both increase the league’s annual revenue and the visibility of the companies who buy the patches.
While Rakuten is the only international company to sponsor an NBA team’s jersey thus far, the global image of the NBA will no doubt influence even foreign consumers. Some other companies that have invested in jersey patches include Disney, General Electric, Goodyear, and Fitbit.
The Warriors are a superb team to invest in during the current era of the NBA and the sports business climate in general. Following a dominant three-year run that culminated in two NBA Championships, the brand and marketability of the Warriors are at an all-time high. In the coming NBA season, the Warriors play on national broadcasts a record 43 times, vastly increasing the number of viewers for each of those games.
The Warriors are also highly invested in expanding their brand into Asian markets, especially China, where the team played two exhibition games this year. Warriors all-stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both have organized large basketball camps in China, helping to expand the image of the NBA and increase international support for the Warriors. Thompson also has a shoe deal with a Chinese firm, Anta Sports.
International support for the Warriors has only grown, and Rakuten’s jersey sponsorship will go a long way towards increasing their image and popularity in the United States and beyond.
Rakuten is also collaborating with the NBA to broadcast games in Japan, where interest has declined since the league has stopped playing games in the country. The company signed an exclusive online-distribution deal for live NBA broadcasts. Rakuten will use its Viber Messaging Program to bring these telecasts and their exposure to Japanese and other Asian markets. Mikitani hopes his efforts will go a long way towards bringing the NBA back to the Japanese market, “which is partially the reason why the Warriors (and the NBA) chose Rakuten to revitalize the enthusiasm of basketball in Japan.” The deal marks the beginning of an exciting new era for the Warriors, Rakuten, and the NBA at large.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.
Contact Alex at