Nike’s new NBA jerseys not only look cool, but they also unlock exclusive in-game virtual currency in 2K’s NBA 2K18. Each NBA team will get four new Nike jerseys this season, including the new Statement jersey. Through the NikeConnect app, gamers can scan the tag on the front left side of the jerseys to receive in-game boosts.
Alfie Brody, vice president of marketing for NBA 2K, said the origin of this unique blending of the real and virtual worlds came from a brainstorm with Nike about the most dedicated NBA 2K gamers.
“We’re leveraging our engaged and very fanatical fan base by rewarding them for buying new NBA jerseys through new content for MyTeam and MyPlayer,” Brody said. “We know our fans consumer content in different ways, and now new technology is allowing us to connect the jerseys they buy with our game.”
When gamers go to any retailer and buy a Top 20 player NBA jersey (as established by the NBA), they can download NikeConnect and swipe the barcode, which links to the NBA 2K API. Then, when they start NBA 2K18, they’ll see a prompt to redeem content, which includes a Free Agent card—a high-value card with a rating for that player in the MyTeam mode. They’ll also get a random boost for MyPlayer, which can be rescanned every day that team plays on the NBA schedule.
If the jersey doesn’t relate to anyone on the Top 20, then they’ll receive an Arena Card (which is a team or arena-specific card) that can be used in MyTeam. The same random boosts will apply, and they can also be used on the day of the game.
Brody said 2K is currently talking with Nike to figure out additional ways to reward gamers through NikeConnect, further connecting real players and teams with the video game universe.
2K also recently partnered with General Mills to offer redemption codes in Reese’s Puffs cereal, which unlock in-game currency for NBA 2K18 players.
“Over the past few years, we have done a code on packaging to give extra value for that product,” Brody said. “We’ve done research on the consumer packaged goods side with companies that are also NBA partners, exploring the crossover of their fan base with ours. This is another method to incentivize consumers to further engage. Our fan base is really engaged and always looking for ways to boost their MyPlayer. Even NBA players take it very seriously.”
Both NikeConnect and Reese’s Puffs promotion connect gamers to NBA 2K18’s “The Neighborhood,” which is the core game mode of MyCareer. This year, the mode is more open world, allowing those additional boosts to help gamers’ MyPlayer on the NBA court and also on the streetball court of The Neighborhood.
“Our jobs as marketers is made easier by the hooks, innovations and improvements in the game year over year,” Brody said. “We’re delivering what our consumers want by engaging with them across social media, offering up the best talent, and ensuring that the actual gameplay experience is the best quality.”
This year’s NBA 2K18 marketing got an unexpected boost when cover athlete Kyrie Irving demanded to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and subsequently moved on to the Boston Celtics.
“As a marketer, we didn’t see that happening, but it provided another marketing beat for us,” Brody said. “There were a lot of complexities to hit the brakes on everything we were doing with Kyrie and refocus on the Celtics, but the timing worked out, and Kyrie is excited to be on his new team, and we were able to harness that. These guys are very good at NBA 2K. Paul George and Kevin Durant and Irving are the top in the league, so that trade gave us a unique opportunity.”
2K also faces competition from Electronic Arts for the first time in years.
“We don’t focus on the competition, but we’re aware they’re there,” Brody said. “Whether we have competition or not, our development team always tries to innovate and take risks. We think it’s good to be on your toes.”
Heading into 2018, NBA 2K18 is also at the center of the new NBA 2K Eleague, which has already given the game a boost through additional esports media coverage. Eighteen of the NBA’s 30 teams are on board for the inaugural season, which tips off next year.
“Right now, there’s not a ton of marketing momentum, but the NBA 2K Eleague announcement and the model of consumers having a path to becoming pro athletes is very exciting thing to talk about and harness,” Brody explained. “When we get to the February/March timeframe, we’ll kick this off, and consumers can try out for NBA teams and be seen by GMs. That’s going to be what we focus on. Then with the launch of the regular season late next spring, it’s a great opportunity for marketing the brand.”
This new “aspirational” journey for gamers will be solidified in 2018. Brody said people are entering the franchise and now they have the opportunity to participate in tournaments at retail. 2K has done Pro-Am tournaments the past few years with plans for a third one still in play. Then NBA 2K Eleague offers that next step for gamers to become professional athletes.
By 2019, the plan is for all 30 NBA teams to be recruiting gamers to field their video game teams. There’s also a plan to expand NBA esports globally.
“NBA 2K has seen double-digit growth in Europe year over year,” Brody said. “In China, we have fewer console gamers, but NBA 2K Online has over 36 million subscribers. NBA’s very big in China and they consume a lot of the product at retail and online.”
2K is also marketing its console game in Europe and Latin America while focusing on mobile and online in China.