Between its 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons, the British Basketball League underwent a metamorphosis. From top to bottom, the league has gone through a rebrand, christened 'Unbeatable', with both the entity itself and its 10 constituent franchises getting new logos, branding, and identities to match.
Away went the dated-looking logos, social media, and websites, and in their place now stands a sleek, modern operation facing consumers.
With this new look came an expanded domestic TV deal for the league that sees UK pay-TV goliath Sky cover more games than ever throughout the 2023-24 season. The broadcaster has held the rights to the league since the beginning of the 2020-21 season where it covered around 30 games per year, a tally that has now risen to 40.
Domestic reach is not the only area where the league has grown over the off-season though, with a number of regional TV deals also signed in the US that will grow the league’s presence in the world’s biggest basketball market.
All of this works to capitalize on a record-breaking 2022-23 season for the league that saw a 200% increase in viewership across the year, with the playoff finals recording 377% growth compared to a season prior.
This record-breaking viewership streak has carried over into the new campaign which, thus far, has drawn record early-season viewership. Speaking to GlobalData Sport, British Basketball League chief executive Aaron Radin believes that the league’s new content strategy has had a “direct correlation” with the record performances of the product.
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“I'm really encouraged by how it's resonated with the audience so far and that it's resulted in some level of growth,” the American says. He did, however, delve deeper into why he is not resting on his laurels adding: “I'm certainly not satisfied with where we are from an audience standpoint yet, and may never be, but to me, we have to keep focusing on the product.
“We must keep focusing on how we present the product in the most entertaining way and that it's not only just a broadcast product and content generation, but it's also game and event operations. [A British Basketball League game] should be an amazing night out for people, families, couples, and one that generates FOMO [fear of missing out] for those that are unable to make it there.”
This has informed the league’s strategy, Radin said, adding that improving production quality is central to the organization’s aims to draw people in.
He explains: “In order to be properly considered [for distribution], our product needed to be at worst at an [entry] level, and at best at a world-class level.”
“We took our fate into our own hands in that regard to bring the production in-house because we wanted to ensure that we were going to be producing to a standard that would allow us to be competitive for distribution.”
The league’s production has taken a step up, with the league deciding over the off-season to take all production in-house, with a new studio show and broadcast team in place from this season.
A new virtual studio with a green screen platform allows the scale of the studio show around games to appear much larger and more high quality.
Moreover, this studio is also used for the league’s new weekly magazine show, which under the renewed Sky TV contract, will air nine times per week on its sports channels, including the premium Sky Sports Arena channel, alongside shoulder content surrounding the games from league personalities who will take an active role in the TV presentation.
“A really important part of our strategy is to create emotive connections with our players [and] coaches,” says Radin. “It's a very unique opportunity to begin to create a connection with the audience for those personalities.”
All of this coincided with the production of a documentary about the league’s Caledonian Gladiators franchise. The show, produced by UK public service broadcaster the BBC, opened a window into the lives of the teams’ players and is something Radin hopes the league does more of.
“It is absolutely a part of our strategy to be able to create and distribute long-form storytelling because there's no better way to enable emotive connections,” he explains.
“We have relatively limited resources and we need to be really focused on what we're prioritizing. So, for this year, and certainly beyond, I expect that a huge part of that will be prioritization of our product. Creating that entertaining joyful experience for our fans.”
Creating connections between fans and teams is a core part of the league’s strategy, and why the Unbeatable rebrand was so important in Radin’s eyes.
Alongside the league’s new media and content strategy is a more commercial-focused approach.
Radin, the former director of global investment programs at social media giant Meta, also explained the league’s new commercial strategy that saw it revamp the look of the league.
“On both a B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) basis, [the new look] was a way for us to reset expectations for how the league is perceived,” he says.
“It's no accident that we did [our commercial revamp] in conjunction with taking over the product, creating the studio show, and really focusing on the quality level of production. A big part of controlling your production is the control of the different assets and how brands can be incorporated into them.
“So the branding, which was a reset for the B2B marketplace, I expect you will see [a rise in brand partnerships] play out more as the season goes on.
“We looked at what league logos look like, not only for basketball but all sorts of sports around the world and there was a pretty common theme that generally it was like a crest, a ball, and some lettering, and we wanted to do something that was really distinctive.”
The idea, Radin stresses, was to differentiate the British Basketball League from how “many other leagues present themselves.”
“A lot of league logos are about authority, we were edging more towards playfulness and vitality and so it's different thematically than how most people present themselves and it's what we were hoping to achieve with [Unbeatable],” he outlines.
This was another core part of the reasoning behind the rebrand. The league focus-grouped with members of its core demographic, 12-34-year-olds, in order to assess how financially viable the new rebranded teams will be in terms of the levels of interest in merchandising.
Sponsorships and licensing deals, alongside broadcast, form two of the three pillars of the league’s revenue model, one that Radin hopes will secure the league’s financial sustainability for years to come.
Recently, the league renewed its long-standing deal with Italian sportswear brand Kappa to produce jerseys and other clothing for the league’s teams. Given the importance of merchandising on the success of the competition's rebrand, this deal could prove key.
Radin explains: “Building up the licensing business is a real priority for us, we want to be one to really grow our consumer products business. That, of course, starts with jerseys, but it will extend to other types of products as well over time.”
In terms of which partnerships the league is looking to forge, Radin has identified less of a business category, and more of an ethos, saying: “We're looking to identify partners who share the same level of ambition that we do in terms of the audience development, and what that can prospectively yield as a business.
“Broadcast, sponsorship, licensing, complemented by how you present the game, the facility in which you present the game, all of these feed one another. Success in one helps breed success in the other, they're complimentary.”
The “three legs of the stool” as Radin refers to it is the core basis of the league’s sustainable revenue model, but it is not a unique one. “There's nothing terribly novel in our approach,” he admits, adding that the NBA and NFL in the US are built off those same pillars.
Tailoring this approach to a league in the position of the British Basketball League in the UK, however, is a task that may prove trickier without the market share basketball holds in the US, and Radin understands this well.
“Our sport is different than football in the UK. I don't mean by total audience size, but because football is a religion," he explains. “You're born into the fandom, right? Basketball neither has that benefit nor burden. So, our goal is really to present it as an entertainment product, an engaging, entertaining, and exciting experience to consume.
“In order to create that type of connection that you're born with, in football, we need to do it through the content experience.”
Regardless of this, the record early-season viewership for the 2023-24 campaign, which saw an 87% increase in viewership in the opening months and a 70% increase in TV viewership, growth across the board in every sector of engagements on social media, indicates that at least in the early stages people are being drawn to the new look of the league.
Radin however, admits that he is one who does not “smell the roses” enough. “So far, knock on wood, we're doing okay,” he says, admitting however: “I'm really pleased to have that foundation in place to allow us the opportunity to make connections [with the fans].”