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Orlando Magic keen on UK specific partners as it looks to fuel international expansion

NBA basketball team Orlando Magic is open to striking local sponsorship deals in the UK as part of its wider efforts to broaden its international fanbase.

The franchise may have lost against the Toronto Raptors when it played in London last week but the match wasn’t just a chance to beat their East Conference rivals; it was also an opportunity for chief operating officer Charles Freeman to get up close and personal to a market he believes can up the team’s commercial game.

“I think with the NBA being on an international scale, there’s a chance for us to work with more local companies,” said Freeman, who compared the potential of such deals to Barclays' long-running association with the Brooklyn Nets.

Understandably, most of the team’s current sponsors are US-focused, though given the team’s heartland in the holiday destination of Orlando there’s scope to build out its sponsorship roster to appeal to its international fans.

“Orlando gets 62 million visits a year and the big markets for us are Brazil, UK followed by Canada,” explained Freeman. “A basketball game is a great evening out and so we’re always trying to look for ways we can be part of that holiday experience so that we can hopefully be the first live game those visitors see and ultimately turn them into fans.”

It’s easier said than done when you’re a team in a state where there’s everything from Walt Disney World to water parks fighting for visitors.

That’s why Orlando Magic is pushing forward with personalising the fan experience both online and in-stadium. From using site cookies and data from its app to give fans exactly the type of content they want to the VenueNext app that offers in-seat delivery of food, drink, expanded digital ticketing options and an in-game virtual betting feature, the franchise wants these features to be part of the reason why people love the team.

But Freeman and his team can’t rely on holidaymakers to fuel Orlando Magic’s long-term ambitions alone and so it's redoubling efforts to win over domestic fans too.

While Orlando Magic is one of the more technologically astute organisations in the NBA, the team is in rebuild mode following drops in attendance and TV ratings since 2013. That dip has heaped pressure on its commercial team to figure out a way to win round younger fans to a sport Freeman admitted can be “expensive in comparison to alternatives”. It’s why the business launched the ‘Fast Break Pass in 2014 to “create a whole new demographic of our fanbase that hopefully will grow with us as they grow in their careers,” added Freeman.

It works by allowing fans to purchase one of four different passes, with a tiered system offering tickets to higher profile matches. What makes it interesting is that the ticket holders don’t know where they will sit until 15 minutes before the match, an alternative way to get people to attend games at lower prices.

“Our first year we saw 85 per cent of the “Fast break Pass’ buyers were first time buyers and when we expanded it last year that number was 65 pr cent,” said Freeman. “That’s an audience that’s never been exposed to the product and so we want to grow that.”

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