Wizards Marketing Dazzle: John Wall and Yi Jianlian
Without John Wall and Yi Jianlian, the Wizards’ marketing reach beyond D.C. would be pretty much zilch. No sponsor will touch Gilbert Arenas (and rumors of him signing with Under Armour have yet to come to fruition — they, like any other potential sponsor of Arenas, would be wise to wait and see what he has left basketball-wise), and no one else on the roster has much pull with advertising dollars. Any other lottery pick, had the lottery balls/envelopes/combinations not fallen in the Wizards’ favor, would have brought a small fraction of Wall’s marketing clout, if any.
Yep, the respective arrivals of Wall and Yi have paid immediate dividends for Ted Leonsis’ bunch. So keeping this in mind, let’s run down some of the recent marketing buzz surrounding the Wizards’ main names in the selling game.
In case you haven’t noticed, media access to Wall takes a different, more controlled path … mostly resulting in his very own media session before and after games like head coach Flip Saunders. All other players are made available in the locker room in both instances on an ‘as-the-media-can-get-to-them’ basis.
For Wall’s post-game media sessions in the press room, a bottle of Gatorade is strategically placed and waiting for him at the table where he sits (the same isn’t done for Saunders’ pressers — CORRECTION NOTE: Gatorade was present for Saunders’ presser after the Cavaliers game). I’ve yet to see Wall take a swig of the Gatorade (unlike what you might see a NASCAR race winner do). It’s safe to say that by the time he speaks, Wall isn’t in dire need to quench his thirst.
The Wizards PR team indicates that the Gatorade bottle is part of the sports drink’s league-wide sponsorship (and not player-related). Of course, one must wonder who else on the Wizards would lend their face to such a specialized scenario of media presentation/sponsorship opportunity if Wall weren’t in Washington. I imagine no one. In this case, Gatorade simply gets the added benefit of extra exposure because of the special set up for Wall.
After Wall, Andray Blatche is the most prominently featured player in team promotional materials. But despite the recent comments about Dray from Saunders, “We might have to make sure he’s not getting any of the Snickers bars late at night,” I don’t think Blatche will (or would) be sitting at the press conference table tempting us to satisfy our hunger with chocolate, caramel and peanuts.
Moving On To Wall & Reebok…
In early June it was reported that Reebok had signed John Wall to a 5-year, $25 million contract to become the face of their basketball products (while last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Blake Griffin, signed with Nike for about $400,000 annually). On one hand, it made sense for both parties (Wall and Reebok) in that Wall wouldn’t be lost in the prominent stable of another company like Nike, and that Reebok would be able to latch on to the huge name they so desperately need.
Unfortunately, it seems that Reebok hasn’t taken the best steps in marketing their young star. For one, Wall’s signature shoe isn’t that great looking, and it has received a fair amount of criticism. Go look at the comments section of just about any post talking about Wall’s Reeboks, or anything Trey Kerby has to say about them. Although, in all fairness, the John Wall ‘Gold Rush’ shoes shown in the linked post of Kerby (more on the ‘Gold Rush’ shoes in a second) look much worse that the actual Gold Rush shoes; the original leaked pictures looked more beige than gold.
Still, regardless of color, the design of Wall’s shoes is a bad misrepresentation of Wall’s game. The Zig Technology on the bottom is okay, but it’s the pattern of interlocking triangles that is less suited for the sleekness and fast-pace of Wall’s basketball skills, and perhaps more suited for a participant in a Tex Winters-designed offense. That and the word ‘Reebok’ on them is absolutely huge. Didn’t the lower-echelon shoe company learn anything when Nike started downsizing the swoosh logo on their shoes? Of course, I’m not sure what Nike was marketing to try to get Wall to sign with them looks much better.
Then The New York Gold Rush …
About those limited edition John Wall ‘Gold Rush’ Reeboks … Of course a frenzy would be caused when the company announced they would only be releasing 12 pairs to the public at a Foot Locker in New York City the day after Wall’s debut in Madison Square Garden. You could probably release limited edition green John Wall stool samples and people would line up.
The day of the game, not far from the Foot Locker and MSG, Reebok set up a ‘ReeZig’ promotional obstacle course where fans were timed, while wearing the Reebok Zigs, running along a zig-zag pattern and accomplishing ‘basketball feats’, ending with a made jumper. Prizes were given out to the best times. And of course, Wall was the face of this promotion (even though there are several other NBA players who sport the ZigTech shoes, including the Knicks’ own Danilo Gallinari). Here are some pictures:
The worst part of Reebok’s ‘Gold Rush’ campaign is that on the box and on the inside tongue of each shoe it says: “New York City is the ultimate stage: Big city, bright lights and everyone is watching. This is John Wall’s debut.”
Everyone watched Wall have his worst game as a pro (13 points, nine turnovers and seven assists), albeit in only a four-game sample at the time. Still, not a ton of tact shown by the Reebok marketing team … a sub-par looking shoe, gold-colored at that, and hyped with too much of a splash when Wall only tentatively dipped his toe in the waters of MSG.
But this is the world we live in. I’m sure Reebok got the marketing push they were looking for. Question is, with such a questionable-looking product, how long will it last? And aren’t viral marketing tactics the way to do things these days? To pile on, the television commercial for Wall’s ZigTech shoes isn’t that creative either.
Needless to say, despite being in NYC this past weekend, I didn’t make it to see the ‘Gold Rush’ at 9 am on Saturday morning. Dime Magazine was around to interview some of those who camped out the night before.
Yi Jianlian & Asian Heritage Night
The Wizards play in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown, albeit a Chinatown that is more about the experiences of commercialism (via Hooters, Urban Outfitters and Starbucks) than it is about the experiences of Chinese culture. Not many businesses are actually Chinese-owned, nor does the neighborhood boast many Chinese residents.
Nonetheless, Yi is Chinese and regardless of where the Wizards play, it behooves the team to tap into the marketability that his country of a billion strong brings. And they have. At the Wizards’ home opener against Philadelphia, an advertisement for Voit Sports Apparel with Chinese characters was featured on the scrolling ad machine in front of the scorer’s table.
On Monday afternoon, the team announced that Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets will host the franchise’s first “Asian Heritage Night.” The meeting between Yi and Yao Ming will be televised in China, as the Wizards have also officially announced that they’ve entered partnerships with several Chinese corporations that will also be attending the game, including Peak Sports Apparel and the aforementioned Voit Sports Apparel.
From the team’s press release:
“Scheduled festivities for Asian Heritage Night include a halftime Lion Dance performance by Wong Chinese Dragon Lion dancers and a post-game meet & greet with the Wizards’ own Yi Jianlian. The newly-crowned winners of the Washington metropolitan Miss Chinese American beauty pageant, Patty Yao, Serena Lin, and Kathy Shi will also be in attendance.”
The Wizards’ home game against the Orlando Magic on November 27 will also be televised on Chinese Central Television. Wait, did they say Orlando? Uh oh.
Well, any pub is good pub … just like the ‘Gold Rush’ … I suppose.
Even Andray Blatche is trying to get in on the action, apparently telling a group of Chinese reporters on Monday afternoon, “Oh yeah. I’m big in China. I’m like fried rice in China.”
Okay, so comments like that from Blatche aren’t really helpful … especially since he doesn’t need to be comparing himself to anything fried in the first place.
Nonetheless, without John Wall and Yi Jianlian around, Leonsis, the Wizards and sponsors would be in much less of a position to dazzle with marketing and reap the returns; returns that fans can trust Leonsis will invest back into his basketball product and back into the community.