For years (since its inception in 2001 really) the NBA Developmental League has been saddled with the stigma of being low grade basketball. And as such, has largely been ignored by the sporting world.
However, with the announcement of an updated sponsorship deal with Gatorade (PepsiCo) that could be changing.
The D-League is becoming the G-League, taking on the Gatorade moniker in an attempt to raise awareness and revenue on their way to a goal of 30 teams to represent each of the NBA’s franchises.
From a business and branding perspective we can see where this move makes all the sense in the world. A minor league sports body gets to raise its profile via their connection to one of the leading sports product brands in the world. And for their part, Gatorade gets to directly connect with a professional league – instead of just being the official sports drink of league X.
But when we look at the G-League name, and the logo, we’re left wanting.
Even though most basketball fans have never seen a D-League game and probably couldn’t name you more than one team, they are aware of the league’s existence. And just like with any renaming, there’s a risk that it will be rejected (either on purpose or by habit) by the fans and general public.
In Toronto we’ve seen this, not in a team name itself, but in the SkyDome/Rogers Centre changeover that happened in 2005. 12 years later a majority of Torontonians still call the baseball stadium by its original name.
The knock on the NBA Developmental League name is that it represents inferior basketball. But really, does the NBA Gatorade League inspire any more confidence in the product? Will basketball fans instantly believe that the players and skills on the court are more talented refined and talented than they were before?
While the NBA has the iconic Jerry West logo, the G-League will feature a generic dunker with the Gatorade logo slapped down in the bottom right corner. Yes, sports league logos are often boring and traditional. And yes, this logo is better than the D-League logo it’s replacing. But if you’re going to go as far as naming the league after a product, why not have some fun with the logo as well?
It feels like the league is straddling the fence between looking for respect and traditionalism and becoming more popular with casual fans and children. And it’s not a look that works for us.
In the end the NBA and the developmental league may get what they want out of this relationship, more eyes on the product, more recognition of the league, and expansion. But if they’re sacrificing the integrity of their only sanctioned minor league level (the NHL has the AHL and ECHL, and Major League Baseball has a vast minor league system) by signing away the naming rights, we’re not sure if it’s worth it in the long run.