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Wine and Basketball: Brands Partner with the NBA and WNBA to Attract New Fans

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Leveraging the decades-long link between basketball and wine to attract new consumers

By Kathleen Willcox 

The business of selling anything, from widgets to wine, to a younger generation often requires a reset. 

News flash: young people don’t want to be caught dead doing the things their parents and grandparents enjoy. 

Serious wine culture, often seen as a mainstay of the crusty ultra-white country club elite, is generally not associated with youth-driven or progressive circles. Which is why the wine industry’s pivot to leveraging the now decades-long link between basketball — young, hip, diverse — and wine is so brilliant.

The French Connection

Tony Parker

It all started with point guard Tony Parker

“I am half-French and half-American, and the father of the girl I was dating when I was 17 in France was a huge wine lover,” Parker recalls. “He really educated my palate and got me interested in fine wine. When I was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2001, I bonded with my coach, Gregg Popovich, over wine.”

At the time, the world of basketball culture — and what players consumed — revolved around hard alcohol.

While Parker couldn’t pour Petrus in every player’s glass or persuade them of the charms of Vieux-Boulogne, he and Popovich did set out on an informal mission to transform the way they — and their many friends — celebrated after games. 

“We started having big dinners with other players, and inviting French Chateaus and key producers to dinners and Spurs games,” Parker says. “Then in the summer, I would travel and see their vineyards and work on allocations with them. We developed real relationships, and I kept telling myself once I retired, I would invest in the wine business.”

[Photo Courtesy of Château La Mascaronne]

While acquiring an ownership stake in a serious winery in a premium wine region is generally only possible for corporate behemoths like LVMH, Parker’s network of friends and associates led him to a friendship with Michel Reybier and, eventually, to Parker’s investment in and agreement to serve as ambassador for Reybier’s brands, Champagne Jeeper and Chateau La Mascaronne in Provence.

Meanwhile, Parker and Popovich’s informal (but highly effective) diplomatic work on the part of Dionysus sparked an industry-wide shift. 

“I love seeing LeBron James’ posts about wine on Instagram, and now there are so many other players — Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, C.J. McCollum, Channing Frye, Stephen Curry — with brands of their own,” Parker notes, acknowledging the cultural shift, while declining to take personal credit for it. 

Wine Brands Get in the Game

Now, two Jackson Family Wine brands deeply invested in growing their outreach to younger and more diverse audiences are getting in the game. The Women’s National Basketball Association has announced a multiyear partnership with La Crema, making it the WNBA’s first-ever official wine partnership. 

The National Basketball Association has announced a multiyear partnership with Kendall-Jackson Winery, making it the official wine of the NBA, the NBA’s first-ever official wine partnership. Both La Crema and Kendall-Jackson have been named the official wine partners of the USA Basketball’s national teams for women and men, respectively. 

The Association views these partnerships as a natural next step for the NBA/WNBA and the wine industry itself. 

“Our players have massive platforms and are cultural influencers beyond their play on the court,” says Jared Blechman, vice president of business development at the NBA. “We started seeing wine become part of the conversation around the culture of the league after players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love and even coaches such as Gregg Popovich publicly expressed their love for it. Their enthusiasm, and that of many of their peers, has been infectious, and the affinity for wine has continued to take hold around the league in years since.”

The partnership with Kendall-Jackson is an opportunity to build upon the wine culture that exists currently within the league as well as to share this appreciation with fans, Blechman explains.  

Unlike wine broadly, which is largely seeing a decline in interest among younger consumers and is having a harder time attracting a diverse community of wine lovers, 23% of La Crema shoppers are millennials, and 44% are Gen X. About 12% of La Crema consumers are Hispanic, according to Numerator data. 

About 42% of Kendall-Jackson’s consumers are under the age of 44, and 17% are Black or Hispanic, according to Nielsen. 

Meanwhile, younger people can’t get enough of basketball, and WNBA viewership is spiking among Gen Z and millennials. The national audience for the WNBA has grown 27% since 2020, making it the fastest growing sports league in terms of viewership. 

“We see a lot of crossover between basketball and our wines,” says Chris Jackson, proprietor at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Geyserville, Calif. “Kendall-Jackson has been the top Chardonnay in the United States for 30 years. You don’t stay number one for 30 years without bridging the generational divide and committing to outreach. Plus, La Crema is the official wine of Pride, and we see a lot of that same outreach to the LGBTQ community with the WNBA.”

Long-building partnership

The partnership has been fermenting for some time. 

“During COVID, we were all depressed,” Jackson admits. “But we have great leadership here at Jackson. We kept asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to be good citizens? How can we help uplift our fellow Americans?’ Our first project was creating a relief fund to thank the grocery workers who were doing so much for all of us.”

And then, they realized that literally the only game in town was the NBA.

“They were the only sports franchise that was able to play,” Jackson says. “So we reached out and offered to provide them with wine and fun educational seminars. There were no strings attached, and honestly a partnership was the last thing we were thinking about at the time. We just wanted to thank them for keeping us entertained.”

But the no-agenda gift ended up paying off. They developed relationships and friendships, and kept in touch. 

“A couple of years later, it became clear that a lot of people in the basketball industry were thinking more seriously about wine,” Jackson says. “And there was mutual admiration between our organizations. One thing led to another, and we became their official sponsors.”

NBA’s Blechman concurs, and sees a lot of synergy and opportunity for collaboration between the Association and Jackson Family Wines. 

“At the start of our conversations, the NBA and Kendall-Jackson connected on shared values between our businesses,” Blechman says. “Our mission is to inspire and connect people everywhere through the game of basketball and Kendall-Jackson emphasizes the importance of community. We also noticed Kendall-Jackson’s commitment to inclusivity within the wine industry because of our own dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.” 

The sponsorship status doesn’t mean fans can expect a bottle of Kendall-Jackson at the next game. Not yet, anyway.

“There’s no guarantee that we will be served in every arena,” Jackson says. “We are working with the NBA and WNBA on activations and events, especially around NBA and WNBA Con, and we’re approaching every arena about serving our wines individually.”

Jackson says that fans can expect that KJ wines will likely be served in 375 bottles at multiple arenas in the coming months, but no word yet on which ones. Blechman, meanwhile, is gearing up for fans to enjoy the upcoming NBA Experience Dinner Series and experiential showcases  featuring La Crema and Kendall-Jackson at major events. 

“I love seeing what’s happening with these partnerships with the NBA and the WNBA,” Parker says. “It’s the next logical step.”

We’ll be watching basketball and wine’s shared journey to see what’s next. 

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Kathleen Willcox

Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, food and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is keenly interested in sustainability issues, and the business of making ethical drinks and food. Her work appears regularly in Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, Liquor.com and many other publications. Kathleen also co-authored a book called Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste & Terroir, which was published in 2017. Follow her wine explorations on Instagram at @kathleenwillcox

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