For those in attendance at the 2019 New York Comic Con event, seeing Spider-Man or other Marvel comic-book characters seems like it would be a slam dunk. But Zion Williamson?
While the pairing might seem peculiar on paper, the NBA’s deep dive into understanding comic-book aficionados brought many realizations, said Kevin Best, the league’s vice president of brand and advertising.
When brainstorming how to recreate the excitement seen during a possession, Best discovered that NBA fans enjoy comic books more than two times the average consumer. That same crowd was particularly drawn to notable Marvel comic-book characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man – each known for driving social conversations that permeate throughout society.
That led the league to work with global entertainment brand Fandom to bring the Tip-Off experience to New York Comic Con.
“We needed to decide where our fans are and what are their passion points – and their passion points are multiple,” Best said. “We’re obviously in the midst of their social communities and sports’ endemic properties. Our fans are also fans of other areas – our partnership with Fandom made that a natural link. And the combination of Fandom and Comic Con in pop culture was a reason for us to be there.”
For Fandom, which mainly covers pop-culture news and trends, its foray into professional sports began while researching the life stages of being a fan, said Isaac Ugay, the company’s vice president of experiential.
Diving into this data meant learning more about Fandom’s typical target audience of 13-to-24-year-olds, said Ugay. Fandom reaches roughly 200 million people worldwide and approximately 70 million in the United States alone, he said. Aligning with the NBA and its diverse male audience was a natural next step for Fandom in understanding the life stages of being a fan.
One aspect of this evolution that stood out to Ugay was that it takes roughly nine years for someone to go from interested to an evangelist in a certain subject, said Ugay. Given the lengthy nature of developing fandom, Ugay started brainstorming ways for the NBA to engage with a comic book-driven audience that it might not have previously known about.
“We were able to spend some time on what would be fun for any human that’s coming to New York Comic Con,” Ugay said. “Fans are not singular – I think that they can be fans of many things. And our partnership with the NBA proves that.”
At New York Comic Con, Fandom and the NBA engaged with visitors through three activations geared towards basketball fans and comic book and pop-culture fanatics, said Best. One of them saw attendees participate in a jump-ball scenario around a green-screen space featuring players like Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Zion Williamson, among others. Not only were they competing for the highest fan jump of the day, but their attempts to reach the hanging basketball on the replica NBA court were photographed and made into an animated GIF.
The second activation occurred simultaneously during the first. While fans were in the air, English comic book artist Tula Lotay would sketch out a comic book painting or poster portrait of them. After they were done with the jump-ball simulation, fans could go to her for the actual illustrations.
Regardless of their actual performances, the fans’ NBA experience at Comic Con ended with a photo opportunity with the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy. While both Best and Ugay are noncommittal about the NBA’s future at Comic Con, this year’s positive showing experience has opened the door to a potential reunion down the line.
“Being at Comic Con, [the fans] were excited to participate,” Best said. “Providing them with that photo experience – not just with the Larry O’Brien trophy – but with the jump ball experience, it gave them a green-screen, comic-sort-of way to compete and show their heroism against our players. They were really into it and it was a wonderful intersection of all of the activities at Comic Con and bringing the NBA into that space in a relevant and engaging way.”