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King of the North – New Balance & the NBA

New Balance signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Toronto Raptors All-Star Kawhi Leonard in late 2018, as a flagship athlete ambassador to kickstart its new basketball strategy which from 2019-20 took in an official partnership with the NBA itself.

As Leonard’s Raptors progressed through the 2019 Playoffs to the NBA Finals, the sportswear brand saw an opportunity to capitalise on the key sports moment in order to target 18-plus hoops fans, increase the brand’s basketball relevance and ultimately drive sales.

Territory: USA & Canada

Agency: Rapport (IPG Mediabrands)


The aim was partly to boost sales of Leonard’s first signature shoe with the brand – the New Balance OMN1s – which the player debuted in a new black and gold colourway in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, plus exclusive Kawhi Playoff Pack and Championship Pack shoes and campaign-linked products such as ‘Fun Guy’ and ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ tee-shirts.


New Balance worked with outdoor specialist agency Rapport to create an OOH campaign, running in Toronto and San Francisco between 17 May and 16 June 2019, which spanned flagship digital outdoor sites and a digital station takeover and was supported by a parallel social media campaign.

The strategy was to run series-relevant messaging which leveraged the most impactful digital outdoor sites in the Raptors home market of Toronto and in the market of their opponents (San Francisco, the home of the Golden State Warriors) through the NBA Playoffs and Finals.

Adapting to the events in the Playoffs presented a challenge in terms of evolving messaging and identifying game-relevant OOH placements, as well as creating artwork and receiving client approval within days. So digital was essential due to short lead times, frequent creative updates and flighting changes all resulting from each game’s outcome.

The campaign evolved through three main phases to capitalise on the real-time Kawhi conversation: with executions changing from ‘Fun Guy’, through ‘King of the North’ and finally to ‘Board Man Gets Titles’ when Leonard and the Raptors secured their first ever NBA championship.

The campaign began during the Eastern Conference Finals with a ‘Fun Guy’ set of outdoor executions, led by a site in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square – with the largest digital site in the entire market – to ensure maximum impact in the city.

It was supplemented by a digital takeover of Union Station, which connects to Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena – thus reaching all commuters traveling into Toronto to attend the playoff games.

The ‘Fun Guy’ poster – an ironic reference to Leonard’s perceived reserve – was supported by an online video of the same title.

The second phase centred on a digital billboard immediately outside San Francisco’s Oracle Arena –  home to the Golden State Warriors – which taunted Warriors fans with “The King of the North is Coming” and an accompanying set of crossed out names of the teams Toronto had beaten to reach the Finals.

This digital billboard, which featured a huge image of Leonard with his arms folded and wearing a New Balance sweatshirt, was live for just one week ahead of and during games three and four of the Finals (which were hosted by the Warriors).

A version of the ‘King of the North’ message also ran on Toronto OOH.

The final, ‘Board Man Gets Titles’, phase ran new executions across the Toronto sites celebrating the player’s Finals MVP win and the team’s first NBA title win.

The phrase’s origin lies in Leonard and his former teammates saying ‘board man gets paid’ in high school and college to motivate each other to make it to the professional league.


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The campaign’s out of home budget almost doubled as the Raptors continued to win and New Balance saw strong results from their outdoor media presence through the final stages of the NBA season.

The products linked to the campaign all sold out during the Playoffs and the Finals, while the ‘King of the North’ billboard became a trending topic on Twitter and was featured on ABC late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live.

In terms of key results, the agency reported:

  • 16,731,029 over-18s reached
  • 344,948,165 earned media impressions
  • 836 stories generated.

The San Francisco digital billboard alone generated 136 articles, 40,000 tweets and 180 million earned media impressions.

During the campaign, New Balance Canada increased its Instagram following by 565 per cent and its Twitter following by 755 per cent.

The campaign won Gold at the Canadian Marketing Association Awards for Business Impact.

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