Exxon Mobil Aims for Millennials With NBA Sponsorship

  • Oil company agrees on multi-year contract in U.S. and China
  • It marks NBA’s largest marketing deal in motor oil category

Exxon Mobil Corp. signed a multi-year sponsorship with the National Basketball Association in the U.S. and China, its second sports marketing deal outside motorsports.

Three years ago, Exxon sponsored the Chinese Basketball Association, a tie-up that convinced the company that its brand resonates outside of Nascar ovals and Formula 1 tracks, said Matt Bergeron, Exxon’s vice president of marketing. Plus, the NBA offers a different type of fan.

"We’re reaching a younger demographic, a more diverse demographic, we’re reaching a demographic that perhaps is more into social media," Bergeron said, comparing NBA followers to motorsports fans.

Terms of the deal, which includes the NBA, the Women’s NBA and the NBA Development League in the U.S. and China, but as of now not other parts of the world, weren’t disclosed.

The NBA has been cultivating fans in China for decades. It was the first major U.S. sports league to open an office in China and the first to play there. Basketball is the most popular team sport in the Asian country, and more than 760 million Chinese fans watched the NBA last season, the league says. Earlier this year, Lizhang Jiang became the first Chinese owner of NBA franchise with a stake purchase in the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Exxon’s presence in China can be traced back to the 1890s, when its corporate forerunner Standard Oil opened an office in Shanghai to sell kerosene in the country. Mobil 1 is now the leading brand of synthetic motor oil in China, according to Bergeron, and Los Angeles Lakers center Yi Jianlian is a brand ambassador.

Exxon’s partnership includes marketing during the NBA’s preseason games in China. This year, the Houston Rockets and the New Orleans Pelicans play Oct. 9 in Shanghai and Oct. 12 in Beijing.

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