LAS VEGAS – The first ever NBA Con, produced in partnership between Emerald and the National Basketball Association (NBA), drew more than 25,000 attendees and more than 45 exhibitors and brands to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center July 7-9 for three days of action and hoops culture.
NBA’s global partners were also featured at the show, including AT&T, ESPN, Pepsi, Michelob Ultra, and The Bleacher Report among other big-name companies and brands. NBA Con also partnered with Amazon Music, and through that partnership the event unveiled more than 500 exclusive NBA products and merchandise and held five live musical performances, including two Billboard Live top ten artists.
The NBA also used the convention as the platform to announce the new NBA In-Season Tournament live on ESPN in front of more than 4,200 fans. This first of its kind tournament for the NBA will include all 30 teams competing for the new NBA Cup starting Nov. 3, 2023, with the semifinals and championship taking place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“The ultimate focus of NBA Con is the fans themselves,” Ron Walden, Senior Vice President of Strategic Sales at Emerald, said. “They are the heart of the event, and their experience was at the forefront of our minds throughout the entire development process. Our aim was to create an unparalleled event that provided fans with exclusive access to their favorite players, an opportunity unique to NBA Con.”
NBA Con is Walden’s “brainchild,” with the idea for the event stemming from attending the NBA All-Star Game in 2018. “As I immersed myself in the week-long event, I couldn’t help but notice an opportunity to forge a stronger and more profound connection between the fans and the sport,” Walden said. “That’s when the idea struck me: why not create a singular space where fans could come together, united under one roof, and experience an immersive engagement with the game and the rich culture surrounding basketball? I envisioned a place where basketball enthusiasts could indulge in not just the game itself, but also the intersecting realms of fashion, music, art, technology, education, and everything else that defines the NBA experience.”
Intentionally designed with neighborhoods, the show floor featured different areas all related to basketball culture. “Basketball is the leading sport where the rich culture of the sport translates off the court via the lifestyle of fashion, music, art, technology, gaming, etc. Only the NBA can authentically deliver on the pillars of the culture. So, we wanted to clearly define the neighborhoods that reflect the various aspects of the culture and create immersive experiences for the fans in each of these areas,” Walden said.
The Park neighborhood featured a full-size basketball court for attendees to watch players practice, a pickle ball court and lots of bench-style seating. With chain link fences and the use of turf, the space resembled a real-life park setting. Also on the show floor were games for attendees to participate in, such as the 20-foot hoop shot and NBA-themed arcade-style games.
Culture played an important role in the making of the neighborhoods, because the NBA is closely connected with a variety of mediums including art, music and fashion. Designers and artists displayed and sold their works in The Drip neighborhood, with products ranging from clothes to hats to art pieces and vinyl.
Part of the draw to NBA Con was the appearances of professional players, with them scheduled at the signing area and at the NBA CONvos stage, where fans could check out panel-like conversations.
“We curated 14 speaker panels featuring over 50 panelists, streaming live content across the NBA Con digital channels. In addition, we gave the fans access to unique and limited merchandise and a chance to actually “put up shots” with players on the official center court,” Walden said.
Legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and rising stars like Victor Wembanyama convened on the stage to discuss the evolution of basketball, what it’s like to be an NBA coach and athlete-agent relationships among other topics throughout the course of the convention.
Now with big plans set for future NBA Cons, fans will be in for a unique experience specific to that show but can also expect more of what they saw at the inaugural event. Walden said of future editions of NBA Con, which also include plans for international shows, “Prepare for an abundance of players, an expanded roster of exhibitors, captivating performances by top musical talents, exclusive merchandise collaborations curated in partnership with renowned creatives and an enriched program of events taking place on the center court. The future iterations of NBA Con promise to be nothing short of extraordinary.”
Reach Ron Walden at Ron.Walden@emeraldX.com