New Orleans is certainly no stranger to parties and basketball, and the 2017 NBA All-Star weekend was a combination of both.
The NBA All-Star weekend is an annual four-day celebration of athleticism, spectacle, and basketball, and the Smoothie King Center hosted the event. For the second time in just three years, the Center has been host to the NBA’s biggest stars, most impassioned fans, and A-list celebrities. The Smoothie King Center has been the perfect setting for great basketball moments, legendary performances and it only continues to grow in its prominence.
For three years, the Smoothie King Center has served as a symbol of both the incredible growth of its namesake brand and the pride it has for its native city. The Center has also served to provide a major spotlight on Smoothie King franchisees nationwide, positively impacting locations through increasing social media mentions and television airtime.
So, how did Smoothie King manage to get its brand associated with such a major venue hosting some of the world’s most popular athletes and entertainers?
When the Saints Go Marching In
When Smoothie King President and Chief Operations Officer Tom O’Keefe first joined the company in 2012, he knew that Wan Kim, the new owner, and CEO of Smoothie King, wanted to secure a big sponsorship deal. Kim, who had done an endorsement deal with Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna while owning Smoothie King Korea, was interested in doing something similar. The Smoothie King brand was already pretty prominent in New Orleans, but Kim and O’Keefe wanted to do something to raise brand awareness around the country and, ultimately, the world.
O’Keefe knew that the city was synonymous with the New Orleans Saints, and he began looking into what he could do to better align Smoothie King with that organization. Kim and O’Keefe arranged a meeting with representatives of the local New Orleans professional football and basketball teams’ owner Tom Benson to discuss some form of a partnership between the brand and the football team.
When the two parties finally met, the conversation quickly turned to basketball.
“Partnering with a basketball team and purchasing the naming rights to the New Orleans Arena were the furthest things from my mind at that time,” said O’Keefe. “But once we met with the Benson group, it was clear that’s what they had in mind for us.”
Being the president of a growing franchise brand, O’Keefe was cautious about the size of the investment. After all, this was the first time the brand had ever thought about purchasing the rights to a major sports and entertainment venue. The positive personal experiences associated with Smoothie King, once again, had worked in the brand’s favor. As it would turn out, Benson’s first date with his current wife was at a local Smoothie King and the brand held a special place in his heart.
“In addition to being a smart strategic business move, he also had a lot of sentimental reasons for wanting to specifically partner with our brand.” said O’Keefe.
It was a deal that made sense for all the parties involved—the local professional basketball team was in need of a corporate sponsor, and Smoothie King wanted to align itself with a professional sports franchise. After about a year of laying down the groundwork, the deal was done.
Footing the Bill
Knowing full well how franchisees carefully measure or evaluate a franchisor’s use of their advertising marketing fund, the Smoothie King executive team decided to use corporate dollars to purchase the naming rights. It was a calculated risk on behalf of Smoothie King, but it was a move that would benefit franchisees system-wide without spending a dime of their advertising and marketing fund.
“Before we signed the agreement, we decided that we believed in this deal so much that we would fund the partnership using solely our corporate funds, leaving our franchisee ad spend untouched and completely intact,” said O’Keefe.
Any initial thoughts among some franchisees that the naming rights would benefit only those in the immediate New Orleans market quickly subsided, due to the national attention the name change received and continued valuable television airtime the Smoothie King Center enjoys during the basketball season.
The Impact of the Deal
In March of 2014, just six weeks after the deal was announced, there was an obvious impact.
“The franchisees that felt the biggest impact were the ones that had stores outside of Louisiana. Smoothie King was already an established brand in New Orleans, but now the rest of the country was beginning to take notice.”
The deal helped elevate Smoothie King in a lot of consumers’ eyes around the country and bring a great deal of attention that the brand had never before experienced, including over 1 billion impressions on social media.
A Mutually Beneficial Partnership
“The New Orleans basketball organization has embraced our mission of inspiring people to live healthy and active lifestyles, and the players have openly embraced us as a sponsor,” said O’Keefe. “Before each home game, we will even bring smoothies down to players and announcers to help provide them with a little fuel before tip-off.”
While many people might associate the Smoothie King Center with sports, the Center hosts two-thirds more entertainment events than sporting events. In addition to housing a prominent professional basketball franchise, countless marquee performers including Rihanna, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder have all graced its stage.
The Smoothie King Center continues to demonstrate long-term benefits.
“The best way to measure whether the deal is beneficial is to ask yourself if you would do it again.” said O’Keefe. “In a heartbeat, I would absolutely do it again.”
Are you looking to join a brand with national and international recognition? Learn more about becoming a Smoothie King franchisee by downloading our Franchise Kit.