Basketball players are turning into media moguls. LeBron James recently moved out to Los Angeles not only to play for the Lakers but also continue appearing in and producing movies, TV shows and more. He’s not the only one, either. As Variety points out there are a number of NBA stars whose side hustles involve entertainment production and development.
If the NBA loves Hollywood, Hollywood might love the NBA more, especially as a means to reach the league’s fanbase.
To help promote this week’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Paramount created an exclusive TV spot for airing on ESPN. The commercial, like the rest of the movie’s campaign, is focused around one of the big stunt sequences, specifically Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) making a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump out of an airplane. Only in this version, he’s talking NBA player James Harden through making the jump as well.
This isn’t the first time – even just this year – a major film release has gone out with a paid campaign geared specifically at sports fans. As I laid out earlier.
- The Equalizer 2: A whole series of commercials had different NBA players auditioning to take over for star Denzel Washington after an initial spot showed Washington explaining to director Antoine Fuqua that he doesn’t do sequels so he’d have to find someone else. The campaign ended when Washington agreed none of them were worthy and agreed to come back.
- Night School: The Kevin Hart/Tiffany Haddish comedy ran a spot during the NBA Finals that had Karl Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge and Devin Booker appearing in a dream where Hart was in school and unprepared for what was happening.
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Also run during the NBA Finals, Kyle Lowry is shown in the spot practicing in a gym and hearing ominous sounding footsteps getting closer and closer. It culminates with footage from the movie of a nasty looking dinosaur emerging from a tunnel.
- Hotel Artemis: NBA star Marcellus Wiley is seen in the spot riding up an elevator with Dave Bautista, who plays an orderly/enforcer in the movie. When they reach their floor Wiley gets out but Bautista stays behind and wishes him well but Wiley quickly freaks out given the violent nature of the hotel.
Why are studios so interested in reaching the NBA’s audience?
Ratings for this year’s Finals were down overall, though viewership for individual games occasionally spiked as the Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games.
More generally, as A.J. Katz noted in February, viewership for the NBA is growing, unlike most all other professional sports. Even more importantly, that audience is primarily made up of adults 18-49, which is younger than those watching baseball and other sports. That demographic is attractive for a number of reasons, especially in their buying power.
The league has cultivated that group in part by supporting players, who have become household names and icons. That’s included allowing players to speak their minds on societal and other issues, something the NFL has taken the exact opposite approach to. Plus, it’s encouraged those players to reflect cultural trends already, which is why so many have branched out into producing or managing entertainment properties directly.
So signing players up for movie promotions is absolutely part of a bigger effort that’s sanctioned by the NBA, one meant to make them as culturally-relevant as possible. Doing so is good for the movies since they get a bit of the shine from the player’s existing reputations and the players get to associate themselves with what’s hopefully going to be a popular and important entertainment industry moment, just one of several they’ll likely be part of this and other years.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.