"Perfect fit:" Bucks, Harley-Davidson excitedly unveil jersey patch sponsorship
Minutes after a sudden and short-lived downpour had deluged Downtown, drenching the painstakingly prearranged event space and stage outside the Harley-Davidson Museum on Thursday morning, staffers from Harley and the Bucks hurriedly squeegeed the street and wiped down seats so that the 100 or so assembled fans, media and representatives from the two Milwaukee organizations could witness the exuberant spectacle of the eager announcement that the local basketball team and the motor company were partnering on a major jersey patch sponsorship.
With the area dried, and as Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi songs predictably blared, a convoy of motorcycle police officers made way for – among others – Harley-Davidson Museum Vice President Bill Davidson and Bucks mascot Bango, the former riding in on a brand new Softail Breakout, the latter on a 2017 Street Rod. The shower having – somewhat serendipitously – just ended, it was confetti's turn to rain down, and, while the sun came out and the sky cleared up, smoke canons fired and the congregation raised their phones to record the grand display.
As always, the Bucks wanted everyone to know this was a very big deal.
And Harley's leadership certainly agreed, as Sean Cummings, the company's senior vice president of global demand, breathlessly declared, "We are so excited for this partnership," a three-year global agreement in which Harley-Davidson's iconic black, orange and white bar and shield emblem will adorn Bucks game jerseys, beginning this season.
Standing on stage in front of a giant banner showcasing their two logos with the tagline, "Building the Next Generation of Legends," Cummings described how the brands complement each other, how the sponsorship is a "perfect fit" and how the crossover appeal can grow both fan bases.
Cummings gave way to Bucks President Peter Feigin, who was similarly enthusiastic, before a slick promotional video touted the history, shared characteristics and ambitions of the organizations. "Can you feel the rumble?" it asked at the end.
"This is one of the most exciting times of the last three years," Feigin said after the announcement, managing not to sound like someone who has expressed versions of that sentiment many times before. "We're so thrilled to be in the fabric of the city, of the state. When we sat down and talked to Harley for the first time, I think all of us got beyond excited; and to see it come to fruition today, we're all over the moon."
Anoop Prakash, Harley-Davidson's director of U.S. marketing, agreed, saying there was a reciprocal appreciation.
"There's definitely a lot of energy with the Bucks, (and) that made a big difference for us because we have that same energy to go after the next generation of riders and fans, and also to bring a title back to Milwaukee," Prakash said. "Everything that they're doing here for the city, but also for their team and the brand, I think it all comes together really well.
That synergy and intuitiveness was a common theme, and the news indeed felt significant. Repeatedly, the Bucks have stressed their commitment to building up Milwaukee, working with area entities to develop the city and community. The partnership with Harley-Davidson exemplifies that effort, while also being a business and branding no-brainer.
Founded and headquarted in Milwaukee, Harley has a high-profile local presence, but also a huge global reach. It's a proud passion brand; Harley gear is ubiquitous, and riders even get tattoos of the logo. The intrepid, 114-year-old motorcycle manufacturer epitomizes what the Bucks want to be: a seemingly smaller but savvy organization that punches far above its weight and successfully scales internationally.
"It's our expectation to be best-in-class and to really redefine what this market is," Feigin said. "We spend every day saying we're not a small market; we're an NBA brand, which makes it global – which makes our distribution, our impressions, our awareness very high at a global level."
Viewing the relationship as mutually beneficial for global growth, Davidson added: "The reach and exposure is going to be tremendous. What a great opportunity it is for both of us."
Second-year center Thon Maker, a Milwaukee fan favorite who is from Sudan and has lived in Australia and Canada, was present at the announcement. And Feigin mentioned Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has rapidly ascended from Greek unknown to NBA superstar, as one of the NBA's most recognizable players around the world, further bolstering the Bucks' macro appeal.
"We think big and we're delusionally optimistic that we can really do great things with the brand, the arena, with entertainment in general," Feigin said. Despite the happy relationship and Maker admiring the Harley hogs, however, Feigin said the team has not encouraged its players to ride motorcycles, an activity that's prohibited in most NBA contracts due to injury risk.
The Bucks and Harley have semi-related brand identities – sports, guys, cool – but both organizations believe they also can introduce different audiences to the other. Matt Pazaras, the Bucks' senior vice president of business development and strategy, said as much in an ESPN article: "There's a stereotype to Harley riders, but the reality is, it's actually a very diverse group. What they're looking for to refresh their brand fits nicely in the demographic we provide."
In a statement, Pazaras called it a natural fit for the "two international brands with deep Milwaukee roots" to join together. "Harley evokes as much passion among its riders as the Bucks do for our fans," he added. "And with that passion, along with its iconic logo and what it represents, Harley is the coolest brand for our players to sport during games."
And then, of course, there are the dollars and cents of the sponsorship. The jersey patch – which will be on the front left shoulder of the team's white, green and black jerseys, opposite the new Nike logo – measures 2.75 by 2.09 inches, and will be visible across Bucks and NBA broadcast, video and digital platforms. Harley estimates the patch placement could earn up 2 billion impressions annually; and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, those impressions could generate $150 million for the league, which would be shared per the collective bargaining agreement.
"Harley in Milwaukee is the epicenter, but Harley is a global brand with millions of riders and thousands of dealers," Feigin said. "And for us, we're a brand with millions of viewers and fans around the world, so there's automatic crossover just in gross numbers. And then we really thought about how do we align the brands together to really create affinity among our customers? That's where it got fun, and we started counting in the hundreds of millions of what the opportunity is."
Feigin and Prakash praised the aesthetics of the jersey patch. While other teams have blended their sponsorship more subtly, the bright orange of the Harley-Davidson crest stands out on Milwaukee's white and green uniforms. (We'll refrain from making any blaze orange buck-hunting jokes.) They both said the logo's appearance only added to the excitement.
This is the first season that team-specific sponsorships are allowed on uniforms, having been approved as part of a three-year pilot program by the NBA Board of Governors in April 2016. The Bucks became the 12th franchise to announce their jersey sponsorship, joining the Cleveland Cavaliers (Goodyear), Orlando Magic (Disney) and others. Although the patch deal, for now, is constrained to just three years by league mandate, Feigin said the Bucks expected to remain partners with Harley-Davidson "over the long term in a big way."
The company was already a longtime team sponsor, with reserved parking for Harley riders outside the BMO Harris Bradley Center and a "Rev Up" promotion in the fourth quarter, when Bango rides onto the court on a motorcycle during a timeout to rile up the crowd. The Bucks are currently constructing their new Downtown arena and surrounding Live Block, and, going forward, Feigin said, "we'll ingrain Harley within the fabric of the entire district."
Davidson, the great-grandson of Harley-Davidson Motor Co. co-founder William A. Davidson, said he "couldn't be more proud" of the company and its new partnership with the Bucks.
"To marry with another iconic brand, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the things they're doing with the new stadium and their fan base, it just made good sense. And it felt right," he said. "It's a very exciting day, and I'm really looking forward to the season. To see the Bucks invest in this great city of ours, the great community of Milwaukee, it made our decision much, much easier."
As Cummings put it in a news release on Thursday, "We've been part of the fabric of this community since 1903, so it's only natural that our brand is woven into the fabric of the Bucks jerseys."
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