7 Lessons Business Owners Can Learn from the NBA Playoffs

Entrepreneur takes break from work to enjoy NBA playoffs

The NBA playoffs run from late April until late June, and they are a spectacular event. For over 2 months, with basketball games almost every night, the NBA gets over 5 million people to watch the talent of players like Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brunson, and Luka Dončić.

Out of the top 10 most watched programs since the beginning of May, the NBA playoffs accounted for 9 of them. And it’s not just this year. Viewership for the NBA playoffs has been on a steady rise. But how did the NBA achieve this? Here’s what you can learn as a business leader from this about how to interact with your customers.

1. Do something consistently each and every year

The NBA playoffs have been going on for decades. As a result, fans young and old know what to expect from them. LIke many sports, there is a regular season and then there’s the playoffs. And that’s where intensity is dialed up as the greats get to play each other. This is a yearly reminder that NBA fans can expect a spectacle from the introductions to the end of the game.

How are you consistently reminding your customers that you deliver something they can enjoy or rely on? Can you offer a yearly or bi-annual sale? If a business can bring a consistently positive experience every time it interacts with people, that creates anticipation for return visits. It may even achieve MVP-like recognition from others in your industry. 

2. When in doubt, create more surface area for people to pay attention to

In 2020, the NBA, responding to its recent expansion to 30 teams, created the Play-In Tournament. The purpose of the tournament was to determine the last two playoff seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference, and act as a predecessor to the NBA Playoffs. The 2020 Play-In Tournament (the first year it was implemented) expanded the postseason from 16 to 20 teams. That meant more games, which meant more basketball for more viewers (and more money for the league).

The NBA responded to their fans’ needs by giving them more of what they want. Businesses can do the same by identifying their customers needs, what their customers are happy with, and delivering a little more of it to them. The NBA provided teams to more cities with an underserved fan base, and delivered opportunities for those teams to play into the postseason. Business owners can identify underserved markets and create opportunities to create new customer relationships with new or improved product and service offerings.

3. Lean into the analytics

For the NBA, analytics is important to everything from the evaluation of individual players, to a coach’s strategic decision making for their team. Wins, losses, points, rebounds, and steals have been replaced by more detailed and meaningful statistics such as player efficiency rating, effective field goal percentage, and win shares, which not only measure an individual player’s effectiveness on the court, but his effect on the entire team.

Analytics play a key role in business decision making as well. Taking advantage of all the data available to you can help you make maximally informed decisions about things like pricing, marketing, and customer behavior. Bill James and sabermetrics brought sports into the modern age. Predictive analytics and machine learning are doing the same for businesses.

4. Showcase what the best in the world looks like

There’s a reason why Steph Curry and Lebron James sell tickets. Everyone wants to see the best in the world do what they do. These two players have stood out among an already competitive field with their respective talents.

People are attracted to “the best” no matter the field. Find ways to show your customers what the best in the world looks like. Customers find it inspiring when a company shows the talent that differentiates it from its competitors.

5. Create variation for your customers

When teams face off in the NBA playoffs, it’s a best of seven series. This allows the NBA playoffs to last as long as they do, and it also gives fans a variety of experiences from one game to the next. One game may feature a certain player on a hot streak, while another player has an off-night. Their roles may reverse the very next game. Different games feature differently seeded teams. Because of the number of teams in the playoffs, early rounds can have multiple games in an evening. The result is a tournament that doesn’t have a dull moment.

A company that keeps its customers engaged can create the same kind of excitement. Taking a cue from a company like Apple, with the anticipation they build prior to new product releases, can show that businesses can creatively engage customers with new products and services.

But even if you don’t have an Apple-sized budget, you can create content that informs and engages customers with a variety of experiences through less expensive channels like social media and trade events.

6. Create highlight reels

If there’s one thing the NBA does well, it’s social media. Short videos on Instagram, TikTok, X and Facebook that showcase crazy dunks, game-changing steals, or buzzer-beating shots have given the NBA far more reach, giving the fans the greatest moments of already great games.

Businesses can also show bite-sized pieces of content that highlight the accolades earned by employees, customer success stories or testimonials, and other informational content that highlights your products and services.

7. Think about your international audience

There was a time when the big names in the NBA were Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. In more recent years, the names we hear are Nikola Jokić, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, and Joel Embiid. The game that started with New York’s five boroughs as the center of its universe is now recruiting globally from nations like Slovenia, Cameroon, France, and China. By doing this, the NBA not only expands its talent pool but also brings in fans from around the world.

In 2022, the NBA expanded its International Team Marketing Plan to allow up to 10 international sponsors outside the US and Canada. This let international audiences see more brands they recognize associated with NBA basketball. Targeting a international audience is an effective way for a business to expand from a domestic to a global presence.

The internet can help your businesses achieve a global footprint by letting you hold online events that reach all time zones. Marketing internationally exposes your offerings to a global audience. And, it can also bring global perspectives into your company that can help you target your products and services to a global customer base.

Business is business

Whether it’s selling season tickets, team merch, and TV ads, or products and services, it’s about business as well as the love of the game. There are many parallels you can draw between how the NBA provides its customers, the fans, with the experience they want, and how your business provides its customers with the products, services, and experiences they’re looking for. 

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