Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is no stranger to sports sponsorship and partnerships, and its latest with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors is the next step in expanding its reach to a broader audience and making inroads to the Chinese audience, especially in the United States.
Its recent history of sports partnerships shows a company being tactical about its quest to gain wider recognition. In late 2016, the company announced a deal with La Liga leaders FC Barcelona for a reported $235.4m over four years — where the company’s logo is emblazoned on the Spanish top soccer league team’s jersey.
Outside of sports, Rakuten has aggressively and progressively built partnerships and acquired companies that fit their future vision, including hookups with Walmart for Japanese online grocery deliveries, acquisition of Bitcoin payment startup Bitnet, a $1bn deal for cash-back company Ebates and a $900m purchase of messaging platform VIber.
The big deal Rakuten made with the National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Golden State Warriors was another deliberate attempt to gain a foothold in a fast-emerging market. In the first season where brand patches are allowed to adorn the Nike NBA jerseys, the company’s ubiquitous ‘R’ logo fetched $20m a year over three years, according to ESPN.
In looking to engage the San Francisco Bay area’s large Chinese American community, Rakuten Viki, the company’s subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service, has become the official video-on-demand (VOD) partner of the team.
The partnership kicks off later today (February 24) as the Warriors meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in a nationally televised game that celebrates the Lunar New Year. The Warriors are set to wear their distinctive Chinese heritage alternative jerseys, and Viki will engage in in-stadium and online activations including partnership announcements, merchandise and newsletters.
“As the Warriors become a global brand, the partnership with Rakuten has allowed us to expand our fan base exponentially around the world,” said Mike Kitts, Golden State Warriors vice president of corporate partnerships. “Rakuten Viki introduces Asian content to our fans, and it further authenticates our initiatives with our Asian Heritage celebrations.”
Where Rakuten is making inroads as well is through content on Viki, which specializes in premium Asian content, especially Korean dramas and K-Pop, which have proven to be popular across cultures. Delivered via OTT, the long list of distribution partners includes Netflix, NBCU, BBC Worldwide, Hulu and a raft of Asia-based content providers.
Though monthly viewer numbers were not disclosed, Rakuten Viki has a global social reach of over 20m over various platforms, including 4.8m on chat app Line. Additionally, almost one-third of Viki’s audience comes from the Americas region and leans heavily female (73%) and young with 19% under 18 years old and 26% in the 18-24 year old demographic.
In the Bay Area, there are 460,252 Chinese-Americans, according to the American Community Survey — which is the third largest concentration of the population behind Los Angeles and New York and one place ahead of the San Jose area, just south of San Francisco and Oakland. In China, the Warriors, and the NBA itself are a huge draw, and that translates to a strong base for the team, which will be in a new arena in San Francisco in 2019.
According to Clara Kim, who heads communications for Rakuten Viki, the audience crosses over well for the platform and its content.
“Our Chinese community in the Bay Area are huge fans of (Asian) content,” she said. “We have a lot of local Chinese viewers who tune into not just Chinese and Taiwanese content, but also Korean dramas, including second, third and fourth generation Chinese Americans. Additionally, there is a great deal of crossover between our viewership and that of the Warriors.”
What binds the audience together as well, is the notion of ‘fandom,’ with the positioning for the activation today labeled ‘From Our Fandom to Yours.'
“Both of our brands center around fandom,” said Kim. “The Warriors thrive because of their fans and Viki definitely wouldn’t be anything without our fans. Connecting the spirit of both, in celebrating Asian heritage and Lunar New Year is special.”
Beyond today’s activations, Kim sees ample opportunity to build from today’s launch both internally with the franchise and externally with fans.
“I think we’ll have more opportunities to reach out to Golden State Warriors fans,” she said. “And we’re looking forward to what’s next.”