The 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago had record merchandise sales, including the best-ever in-arena sales for the event, breaking the record previously set in 2010 in Dallas.
While that success can be partially tied to the star players featured on the court, it also is a byproduct of the event turning into a showcase and an experience for the entire host city.
For each All-Star weekend, the NBA works with the local teams and government organizations – in this case, the Bulls, Chicago city officials, and Chicago Sports Commission – to plan events, social responsibility initiatives and find ways to leave a lasting impact to the community and fans, Kelly Flatow, NBA executive vice president of global events, said.
“Each All-Star Game is designed to highlight the personality and character of the team and city,” Flatow said. “We aim to put fans first and design programming that engages and inspires fans in the local market as well as those who travel to the city to enjoy this global celebration of the game.“
That approach to fan-first programming has bled into the retail experience, which is designed to be “experiential beyond the purchase,” Rank and Rally Senior Vice President of Retail Adam Beck said. Final revenue numbers weren’t available as of Tuesday, but merchandise sales were “well into the seven-figures,” according to Rank and Rally.
“What we were trying to do is create the best possible experience for the fans in a manner that provides scalable case studies we can bring to other areas,” he said. “Consumers are using their wallets less on material goods, but All-Star is a perfect event at the intersection of that – a bucket-list experience. What they interact with at retail extends that experience.”
Including the United Center store, Rank and Rally had eight locations across town, representing 17,000 square feet of floor space. Each space was individually designed with merchandise suited for the area around it.
“We leaned heavily on creating an experience with a curated approach,” Beck said. “Any fans spending time around the city were not experiencing the same shopping experience.”
Each shop had a portion devoted to the official NBA All-Star shop, but there were also brand pop-ups and experiences, Beck said. The stores sold through Monday after the All-Star Game.
Within the United Center Madhouse Team Store, Rank and Rally partnered with ‘47 Brand, Mitchell & Ness, Herschel, Stahls, and Sportique for pop-ups.
At the Navy Pier location, the league hosted NBA Crossover, a convergence of the NBA and pop culture, ranging from art, fashion music, technology, and entertainment surrounding basketball. Tissot and New Era hosted pop-ups at the NBA Crossover retail store.
Rank and Rally also had locations at the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton Grand, Westin Michigan Avenue, Water Tower Place and Wintrust Arena.
The retailer also partnered with American Express for a 20% off Amex incentive at all the retail locations.
“The merchandise was team-branded or All-Star elements, but fans were buying them as a statement,” Beck said. “The more we can lean into our partners, the broader the appeal becomes. It was a cultural event, and the city was activated, not everyone walking through the door is a diehard fan. What you’re offering has to cater to them.”
Much of the merchandise on display, including jerseys and headwear, was chosen by data and analytics. But the company also experimented with interactive retail experiences, including customization stations. Beck said those types of stations are scalable, citing MLS supporters group scarves as an example.
Rank and Rally was only a portion of Chicago-based Levy’s showcase in its hometown. The NBA also worked with 58 restaurants from 15 Chicago neighborhoods to bring the local culinary scene to life for fans from across the globe.
“What we did across the entire weekend was a massive presence, even though we’re not a frontal consumer brand,” Beck said. “The message was one of home-court advantage. We strived to provide a seamless end-to-end hospitality experience. It was a unique opportunity with the presence we had; from a weekend standpoint, it was certainly one of the biggest we’ve had since launch.”