By Barry Janoff
October 27, 2014: Lixin Cheng, president and CEO for the U.S. division of China-based mobile phone company ZTE, was not shy about using basketball terminology to explain why his company was teaming up with several NBA teams.
"We are on a fast-break in the United States," said Cheng during a media event in Madison Square Garden on Monday (Oct. 27) to unveil multi-year alliance making ZTE USA the official smartphone of the New York Knicks. "Like the Knicks, we are here to win."
ZTE USA, based in Richardson, Texas, concurrently unveiled a similar alliance with the Golden State Warriors and an extension of a deal signed last season with the Houston Rockets. ZTE also has an official partnership with the NBA in China.
Cheng said the company has 56 products, including the Zmax phablet on T-Mobile unveiled last month.
According to Cheng, brand recognition in the U.S. for ZTE has gone up from 1% to 16% over the past year due in large part to its NBA visibility and is the fourth largest smartphone manufacturer in the U.S.
"It is a winning game plan," said Cheng. "I believe we can be No. 1 in three years."
The strategy in New York includes signage inside and outside of Madison Square Garden, which would put the brand in view of "600 million people annually," according to Tad Smith, CEO and president of The Madison Square Garden Co. There also will be additional national exposure as the Garden is hosting the NBA All-Star Game this February.
Support also includes in-game activations such as seat upgrade and supporting the Knicks Garden of Dreams Foundation, which is a non-profit charity that works closely with all areas of The Madison Square Garden Co., including the Knicks, Rangers, Liberty, MSG Entertainment and MSG Media, "to make dreams come true for children facing obstacles."
Asked whether members of the Knicks, whose roster includes the high-profile Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, would be required to us ZTE smartphones, Smith laughed and said, "If any of the players ask for one, we would be happy to supply them."
With the Warriors, ZTE USA alliance includes sales and marketing elements related to the coming seasons such as TV, radio, digital and in-arena messaging in Oracle Arena. It also includes a Phone Drive, presented by ZTE, where fans will be encouraged to bring in their old cell phones to Oracle Arena and donate it to the Warriors Community Foundation, which is "dedicated to making a significant and lasting impact on the lives of underserved youth in the San Francisco Bay Area."
According to Cheng, “We chose to partner with the Golden State Warriors as a way to reach new audiences and fans coast to coast in a way that allows consumers to get to know and experience the ZTE brand as we continue to grow in the United States. Moreover, understanding that mobile and sports industries are converging in really compelling and unique ways makes ZTE proud to be working with a marquee organization during these exciting times.”
Added Rick Welts, president and COO for the Warriors. “With the Bay Area being a hub for all things technology, we have no doubt that this partnership with ZTE USA will resonate well with our fan base.”
With the Rockets, which were the first corporate sponsorship for ZTE USA, the alliance will continue to build locally, within the state and nationally. Multi-media marketing has been supported by such activations withinToyota Center as give-aways of the ZTE Rockets edition of the Nuoia 5S Mini LTE.
“Coming off of a very successful partnership during the 2013-2014 season, we’re happy to announce the continuation of our relationship with ZTE as the official smartphone of the Houston Rockets,” Tad Brown, Rockets CEO, said in a statement. “As two Texas-based companies, we share a core value in giving back to the communities in which we operate, and we’re excited to build off of all the great momentum we cultivated last year and take this partnership to the next level.”
The fact that the NBA is working hard to build its brand in China and other global hoops hot-spots was not lost on Cheng.
"ZTE and the NBA have common goals," said Cheng. "We want to serve and give back to the communities in which we work and we want to grow brand awareness."
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