As the Cleveland Cavaliers releases one of the first NBA 2K League virtual jersey sponsorships—a Hot Pockets patch on the upper right chest—it could provide a case study for non-endemic brands looking to make esports headway.
Cleveland Cavaliers senior director of digital partnership Jonathan Sumers says this sponsorship strategy isn’t a hard one for companies to understand, as it replicates the actual NBA experience.
“It’s a much easier sell-through to show companies how their brand will be incorporated into the game itself,” Sumers explained. “Everyone understands how courtside signage works in the NBA and it’s the same in the NBA 2K game. It’s an organic and natural way to integrate brands than other esports games—like a Dota 2, where companies don’t understand exactly where their brand appears on screen.”
Hot Pockets will also be promoted inside the Cavs home NBA 2K virtual arena as part of a marketing partnership with the local Cleveland Nestle brand in a campaign that will include digital and social media content.
Mohini Joshi, marketing director for Hot Pockets, endorses the campaign for the high correlation between his brand’s consumers and NBA fans and gamers, and for the chance the partnership provides to become more relevant in that gaming space.
Hot Pockets parent company Nestle kicked off its esports collaboration by incorporating gaming influencers into its branded content, and then evolved into influencer brand integrated content.
“One of the most significant aspects of the Cavs Legion opportunity is the way it’s being approached as a partnership instead of a corporate sponsorship,” Joshi explained. “This partnership will involve working together with the Cavs Legion Game Club to create meaningful content.”
Anthony Muraco, director of gaming operations for the Cavs, told AListDaily that the challenge traditional esports games have in connecting with mainstream spectators is that if you’re not a League of Legends or CS:GO player or enthusiast, it’s hard to grasp what’s going on.
“If you understand basketball, you understand NBA 2K,” Muraco said. “This will allow NBA 2K League to cater to a wider audience and a more traditional basketball audience. It’s also a great introduction to esports for new fans. And the ability to root for your hometown team is a concept that will also connect with NBA fans.”
Hot Pockets works with former esports pro and current influencer Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, who is the CEO of the Cavaliers’ new League of Legends team 100 Thieves.
“We’re talking to corporate partners who are new to this space,” Sumers said. “And it’s not the hardest to sell through when you tell them the audience and manner and authenticity of the NBA 2K brand. It’s unique to esports and you don’t find that in other spaces.”
The gaming and esports audiences are young and digital first: 56 percent of gamers are 34 or younger. Primarily online and on social media, they’re avid ad blockers that do not watch traditional TV or respond to conventional advertising. Like with any food company’s campaign, effective engagement in this realm will be a challenging priority.
“Brand integrated content must be transparent and communicate the product benefit– and where, and from whom, consumers get this information is critical,” Joshi said. “Consumers have a high trust level with influencers like Nadeshot that puts credibility in the products they include in their content.”
In Joshi’s experience, the more closely the brand targets its consumer, the higher the ROI.
“We see up to three times as much engagement on influencer brand integrated content compared to non-influencer branded content on our owned channels,” Joshi explained. “The closely linked relationship between gaming and the Hot Pockets brand is an area we’ve been activating against for years and continues to be a strategic priority for us.”
Looking ahead, Hot Pockets plans to work with the Cavs to develop a streaming video strategy.