Imagine a place where you can snap a picture with your favorite NBA player, get real-time business insights from their advisors and shop exclusive apparel from their fashion lines while listening to live performances by top musical artists. What once seemed impossible for the ordinary NBA fan is now a reality. This weekend in Las Vegas, the first-ever NBA Con is bringing fans closer to the game. Featuring musical performances, intimate conversations with players and opportunities to secure unique collectibles, the NBA launched NBA Con to connect authentically with fans.
An event four years in the making, the NBA was “trying to build the right model and moment to launch,” NBA head of global event strategy, Joey Graziano, told RULING SPORTS. Through designing multiple iterations and concept refining, the league realized that any NBA Con had to showcase the dynamism of the league and its players on and off of the court.
“Our players are entrepreneurs, social justice champions, musicians, fashion icons and more,” Graziano remarked. “I was in the NBA bubble and spent a lot of time watching our players make fishing the hottest activity. Then pickleball blew up after our players and referees were playing. I started recognizing the cultural relevancy of the league and players across multiple vectors.”
NBA Con will give fans multiple touch points to engage with that cultural relevancy. The convention space itself is divided into multiple “neighborhoods” featuring their own feel and cultural elements. For instance, the park neighborhood features a basketball court akin to those found in New York City–where the league is headquartered. There, NBA teams will host official NBA Summer League practices. The “screen on the green” neighborhood is mirrored to reflect the outdoor spaces where New Yorkers gather for outdoor events. At NBA Con, they’ll gather on the green to watch Summer League games, including Victor Wembanyama’s already sold out first NBA game. Pushcart vendors will wander the space with treats, official NBA partners will creatively showcase their offerings and fans will be able to purchase exclusive NBA merchandise.
The NBA knows that consumer preferences have changed post-pandemic. Its understanding of new customer experiential demands impacted how the NBA shaped NBA Con.
“The bar has raised post-pandemic,” Graziano said. “Fans are looking for intense experiences. They may do less, but they want to do it more intensely. They want it to hit on all of their senses and be fully engaged.”
While NBA Con Las Vegas marks the first iteration of the event, it won’t be the last. The NBA sees the event as an opportunity to build its international fan base and further engage fans, including those who otherwise may not be able to attend games.
“Our plan is to operate multiple NBA Cons each year and build NBA Cons around our international events and other places where our fans are craving more NBA opportunities,” Graziano said. “We continue to grow internationally and we want to identify more ways for fans to interact with our game around the world. There are always going to be challenges to bringing the game live around the world, so you have to identify new opportunities.”
International basketball phenom Victor Wembanyama’s entry into the league accelerated the launch of NBA Con.
“We knew we were in a transcendent moment as a league with a transcendent international star entering the league,” Graziano said. “We’ve been rushing to launch this business and opportunity. Our plan is to work through the next few days to learn a lot and then sit down with our [trade show] partner, Emerald, to determine when the next is to come.”
One thing is certain about the next NBA Con: it will be an entirely different experience than the first go-around.
“The idea of NBA Con is that it is scarce in and of its nature,” Graziano explained. “Every single NBA Con is a one-of-one; it will never happen again. We want each iteration to have an identity of its own, so if fans miss that one, they realize that the conversations and product drops will never happen again.”
Get the free weekly newsletter so you can win the game.