Dreams are realized each June at the NBA Draft. In an instant, young men are turned from amateur athletes to NBA players with soon-to-be-signed lucrative contracts. These newly minted rookies are exposed to their first professional moment in the spotlight, endearing them to brands and fans alike.

Like any major sporting event, the draft is filled with marketing sponsorship activations from brands and their athlete partners. What has traditionally been reserved for television ad spots has moved online, where brands, teams, and players aim to engage their audiences with draft-day storytelling.

This year, we saw a spike in player marketability alongside excellent social media content during the 2016 NBA Draft.

Top-5 NBA Draft Picks: Growth on Social Media

The top five players selected in the 2016 NBA Draft added almost exactly 100 thousand Twitter followers from June 2 to June 24, the day following the draft. This represents a 66 percent growth in only 22 days. In just 24 hours following their selection, the top five draftees gained more than 67 thousand followers.

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While measuring Twitter followers may seem arbitrary, the organic reach of an athlete’s message has a direct correlation to the value that brands and sponsors pay for when activating sponsored social media campaigns with an athlete.

Draft Day Activations

Among the top five picks, Kris Dunn was the most active on social, sharing multiple sponsored posts on behalf of JC Penney and SpeedStick. Ben Simmons and Buddy Hield retweeted posts from Nike, and Dragan Bender did the same for Adidas. Though he signed with Adidas, Brandon Ingram appears to be the only top-five selection to not engage in a brand-sponsored social media activation during or immediately following the draft.

Simmons, Ingram, and Hield also engaged their audiences through athlete point-of-view platforms Uninterrupted and Players Tribune. Both platforms have grown in popularity with athletes and fans alike, as they provide athletes the ability to publish personal, unfiltered content.

The best social activation of draft day may have come from Spalding and SLAM Magazine’s True Believers campaign. The spots featured to-be rookies Hield, Dunn, and Tyler Ulis, and were distributed through the brands’ Twitter accounts and the accounts of current NBA stars Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan. Spalding and SLAM amplified the authentic content by distributing it through NBA players to ensure a massive, highly engaged NBA-fan audience.


While social media was not ignored during the draft, there is plenty of room for improvement from both players and brands. As both parties become more aware of the benefits of real-time social activity in engaging fans and building audiences, we expect more and more intentional, high-quality activations during similar events in the future.