When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals in June, an entire state erupted into cheers. Ohio’s only professional basketball team, the Cavs had gone its entire 46-year history without a championship title. The devoted (and patient) fan base was finally rewarded when the team came back from a 3-1 game deficit against the Golden State Warriors to clinch the 2016 title.
Now, for the first time in Cleveland history, the Cavs community is entering a new season as champions, and the organization is encouraging fans to bask in the limelight with the team.
“Everything we stand for is very centralized on teamwork and community,” said Cleveland Cavaliers CMO and 2017 Clio Sports juror Tracy Marek. “Part of that is enabling our entire fan base to be an active part of whatever we’ve got going on.”
Going into this season, the Cavs looked to build upon last year’s momentum. “We’re lucky to be in a place where fans really want to be connected,” Marek said. Something everyone can access is the Cavaliers’ hashtags — #WonForAll and #DefendTheLand — which began during last season’s playoffs and have emerged as proud rallying cries for the team, the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio.
“It isn’t ‘Defend The Cavs,’ it is ‘Defend The Land.’ It is about us as a marketplace,” said Marek. “Teamwork, community—that’s what we do and that’s who we are. We’re an organization who recognizes that we have this unique opportunity to lift our community. We’re a reflection of our community… We’re proud of who we are, we’re proud of our city, and we want to do the best we can to represent.”
Indeed, fan engagement permeates all of the Cavs’ activations this season: “We are very focused on providing people access to the championship,” Marek noted.
During last season’s playoffs run, this community spirit took form in hosting outdoor fan fests at Quicken Loans Arena during home games, opening the stadium doors for away game watch parties and organizing the NBA’s largest championship parade in history, attracting 1.3 million fans.
The Cavs organization also introduced the Wine & Gold Nation fan club during the playoffs, which has since become a centerpiece of the team’s 2016-2017 marketing efforts. The all-ages fan club — membership is broken up into four age tiers, which begin from newborn — requires only a $35 annual membership fee, which fans earn back in the form of free Cavaliers swag (branded water bottles, T-shirts, Bluetooth speakers and more, all geared towards the specific age groups) and exclusive experiences. Through their membership, a few young fans gained the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the team’s Media Day and act as junior reporters, interviewing players and creating video segments.
“We wanted to make sure that we were opening our doors to a much larger community. It’s all about the fact that you don’t have to be a person with season tickets to engage,” Marek said. “These kinds of programs aren’t necessarily new, but to do that with an audience that doesn’t even have tickets to the game is what makes it unique.”
The team also conducted a trophy tour throughout Ohio during the preseason, to give as many people as possible a chance to get their photo taken with the trophy. In addition, the organization has focused on its youth basketball initiatives to encourage connection with the sport, and is even unveiling a collection of the championship court itself, including everything from $25 keepsake pieces to bespoke pieces of furniture made from of the court on which the team won.
While some of these initiatives are a direct result of winning the 2016 NBA title, much of the Cavs marketing this season is simply a reflection of team’s enduring community spirit.
“At a certain level, winning changes everything, but a lot of what we have done is very Cleveland Cavaliers-ish,” said Marek. “We pride ourselves on trying to be as engaged as possible, and we’d always be super aggressive, super accessible. Because we’re the champions, we’re just getting a little more attention and people are more excited.”
Entries for the 2017 Clio Sports Awards are now open. The first deadline for submissions is January 20. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit clios.com/sports.