Major sports milestones don’t occur every day, but when they do, it seems like the whole world is watching. In March, the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki became just the sixth player to join the National Basketball Association’s elite 30,000-point club. Achieving that milestone put him in the company of Hall of Fame legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Social media lit up, of course, as fans and major brand names were along for the ride every step of the way. No. 41’s achievement vividly showcased the power and potential of social media to reach target markets with precision and meaning.
The Mavericks used #Dirk30K to mark Nowitzki’s accomplishment, receiving nearly 2.5 million engagements from 146 different entities, including the NBA, various media outlets and fellow German athletes like soccer stars Toni Kroos and Marco Reus. All of that social media love added up to more than $4 million in value.
Nowitzki’s personal social media value benefited, as well. While he admits that he’s not all that active on Instagram—his last post came before the season, from his charity tennis tournament event—he picked up some 40,000 new followers in the 24 hours after his milestone shot. That, in turn, increased his reach on the platform by more than 10 percent.
Bud Light also saw a promotional growth opportunity when the all-time leading Mavs scorer told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon how he celebrated: “I just had a Bud Light for the first time in a long time.” The official brewing partner of the NBA delivered 30,000 bottles of its beer to American Airlines Center as giveaways to fans celebrating Nowitzki’s feat.
— Bud Light (@budlight) March 11, 2017
This isn’t the first time savvy brands have been quick to capitalize on sports achievements. Last season, Nike ran a massive campaign for NBA great Bryant’s retirement, using the hashtag #MambaDay (referring to his “Black Mamba” moniker). Athletes and celebrities used the hashtag across sports lines—even those competing with Nike.
The result? In 2016, the hashtag was the eighth-most-valuable social media campaign for Nike, generating $5.9 million in value from more than 1,000 mentions from other pro athletes. In fact, the top mention of #MambaDay came from LeBron James in an Instagram post when the two played for Team USA.
Nike can look forward to celebrating another 30,000-point NBA milestone thanks to its lifetime contract with James. With more than 28,000 points under his belt and nowhere close to retiring, James is most likely the next player who will score 30,000 career points.
In Major League Baseball, two major milestones are just around the corner and could occur this year: Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is expected to get his 3,000th hit, and Albert Pujols, first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will probably become the ninth player in history to hit 600 home runs.
In the near future, promotional opportunities due to retirements, as noted with Bryant, will also pick up. Former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter started the retirement-tour tradition in 2014 and was presented with gifts unique to each locale and donations to his charity from opposing teams during away games. In 2016, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox was also similarly celebrated. (Interestingly, the restraint shown in the retirements of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan, while admirable on many levels, also resulted in a big miss for their key sponsors.)
Why is all this important for brands and the people who market them? In a word, value.
While traditional broadcast advertising will remain a pillar of strategic marketing campaigns, social media offers an easy and cost-effective way for brands to not just reach, but engage authentically, with consumers where they “gather.” As Bud Light and Nike found out, the value that brands receive from social is far greater than the cost of such a campaign.
With more and more special memories in the making, savvy marketers can and should use social to be an integral part of fan conversations—and even drive those conversations when appropriate. The most successful brands will engage consumers where they are and tap into the collective excitement, pride and unbridled joy we all feel when an athlete reaches the pinnacle of his/her profession.