How the Golden State Warriors Became the Most Marketable Team in Professional Sports

The Golden State Warriors were an afterthought, a non-story. From 1977 to 1985, the Warriors didn’t make the playoffs. From 1994 to 2005, Golden State didn’t even come close to a winning record as they became the basement manager of the Western Conference. The days of Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes and Nate Thurmond were long gone. Their huge upset of the highly favored Washington Bullets in the championship series in 1975 was a fairy tale that Golden State fans would tell their children before they went to sleep. The Warriors were a dusty, blemished medal lost in the pile of what-ifs and has-beens you could find in your local antique store. During owner Chris Cohan’s 16-year tenure at the helm, Golden State made the playoffs once and broke the .500 barrier twice. When Silicon Valley icon Joe Lacob and his investors purchased the Warriors from Cohan for what was then a record $450 million, experts were scratching their heads. As Nick Swinmurn, the founder of Zappos, described in Bruce Schoenfield’s New York Times piece, the Golden State Warriors were “the little engine that couldn’t.”

What Lacob, now the majority owner of the Warriors, has done is brought the franchise not only stability, an attribute every franchise strives to reach, but the ability to continually adapt itself to both its sport and its fan base.

There is more discussion about the Golden State Warriors right now then there is about any team in professional sports and not just because the NFL season concluded in February. Even during Carolina’s impressive Super Bowl run and the emergence of Denver’s suffocating defense, the world’s spotlight was on Golden State. The Washington Capitals this year have had one of the most dominant regular seasons in NHL history, amassing 116 points and 55 wins, a total that could reach 59 by season’s end, putting them just three games back of the all-time record of 62 set by the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings (The Capitals ended the year with 56 wins and 120 points). They, too, have gone almost completely unnoticed.

The Golden State Warriors have overshadowed every team in sports. Philip Rossman-Reich put it best when he said Golden State holds “an unmistakable allure that keeps people and the media tuning in in a way that has not been seen in the NBA for some time. No one puts on a show quite like the Golden State Warriors.”

It’s not just the show the team puts on, but how they put it on. Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post said, “The norm is for victory hogs to inspire a level of envy that seeps into dislike. But hate Golden State? What? do you hate dessert, sunshine and the laughter of children, too?”

Rossman-Reich echoed this sentiment, saying, “The Warriors have their detractors, but the narrative with them seems to be one of ‘Why don’t you appreciate this team more? Why are you hating?’ rather than ‘This is jut the way the NBA goes and the way the culture is now.'”

That’s the frame the media has given Golden State. The Warriors are well-liked because there’s so little not to like. As Nicolas Dawidoff of The New Yorker claims, “But the defending NBA champions are the sport’s best and most entertaining team not because of a single player but because they have an intricate approach to basketball that’s as pleasing to old-school coaching purists as it is to people fitted out in new blue-and-gold Curry shirts.”

Stephen Curry is the team’s best player and one of the most marketable players in professional sports right now. He leads the league in jersey sales, further promoting a brand that’s so fresh and new it feels like it was created in a cauldron full of athletic prowess, statistical perfection and revolutionary ideology. Tradition establishes branding, but what tradition did Golden State have the last 20 years aside from their historical record of losing? None, so Golden State has done the only thing they could do: create their own.

There are some who will call the Golden State Warriors a bandwagon team because of the increased fan base and perhaps they are, but it’s hard to argue a team that wiped the slate clean and formed not only a team of extraordinary athletes but one of sports’ best marketing campaigns and branding accomplishments aren’t worth admiring.

Lacob has put together the preeminent team of professional sports, a team that astounds not just in its play but in its selflessness. Earlier this year, Draymond Green said that the Warriors nearly lost a contest “due to my selfish unselfishness” in his pursuit of a triple double. That is a quote that, if said before, has not been said in a long time and one can imagine won’t be said again for years. In few situations has a player ever been so selfless that he viewed it as a negative. Green’s quote says something not just about himself as a player but about the team as a whole, that they sometimes are so driven for the perfect shot and to orient their teammates into the scheme of things that they sometimes overthink.

As rare a quote as it might be, the idea that such a quote could come from someone donning a Warriors uniform shouldn’t surprise anyone. As Marty Fukuda of Entrepreneur pointed out, not only is the team known for its high-character team members, the Warriors have a bias towards homegrown talent. They have grown the core of their team through the draft and have avoided the hassles and endless discussions over free agent signings. The Warriors have developed their assets and promoted from within, giving players the incentive to continue to put forth their best.

Their crisp ball-movement has led to a strong team philosophy, pushing the brand to the forefront. As NBA legends continue to doubt their performance and claim it is a a result of the defenses in today’s game, the Warriors continue to set records and reach yet another echelon of performance. Robert O’Connell of The Atlantic wrote, “He (Curry) and the graceful, jump-shooting Warriors diverge from the brawny historical models of great players and teams, and there’s the sense among some in the sport’s establishment that they have not so much mastered the game as solved it, bringing about a basketball revolution that is not wholly welcome.”

Even Phil Jackson, one of the best coaches of all time, continues to question how sustainable the Golden State movement is. Despite the fear that some hold about what Golden State is doing to the sport of basketball, O’Connell commented, “That perspective makes enough sense on a radio show or in an article. Turn on the Warriors, though, and your skepticism get tested…A neat little aesthetic trick of the Warriors’ marksmanship is that, no matter what the statistics teach you to expect, the shots still look daunting…In the middle of all this, Curry doesn’t seem anything like an avatar of basketball’s decay.”

Visionaries shape the industry and right now, the Golden State Warriors are a franchise of visionaries.

The NFL might be the most effective sports league at getting their product front and center, but the Warriors have proven they’re the most effective franchise. The Golden State Warriors, despite being relevant for only a few years now, have one of the largest Twitter followings in the NBA behind only a handful of long-tenured and big market franchises: the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and Heat. The amount of coverage and exposure this team has gotten this season is hard to quantify. During Golden State’s long vacation in the basement of the NBA, Golden State might have had to pull teeth to get someone to run a news release. Now, publications can’t get enough of them. Brewer has called the Warriors “appointment television” and it’s hard to disagree with that. Golden State is drawing the fan base of not just the NBA, but sports fans in general. The revenue streams that the Warriors have coming to them in the future are going to be the biggest in the sport. The media rights to broadcast Warriors’ games will climb exponentially, as will naming rights and sponsorships in the coming years. For now, the club’s merchandising is writing the paychecks. With the product that the Warriors are putting on the court, setting historic marks at every turn and as Dawidoff says, “no high-school softball team displays more happiness than the Warriors,” it’s hard to see that hype dying off. They might be the most entertaining franchise in sports for the manner in which they play the game as much as the attitude they bring with them. Rossman-Reich commented, “they are just an unreal team laying waste to the NBA record books at will. And no matter who you are cheering for, they give you your money’s worth every time in their dominance.”

He acknowledges there’s something special about this team and that fans attend not just for how legendary this team is becoming, but for the entertainment that pairs with that. Andy Liu of Golden State of Mind agrees, saying, “out in the open, on the open court that the Warriors completely dominate and destroy opponents on, the Warriors shimmy, celebrate, smile and play the game of basketball the way five-year-olds do: for fun.” Nothing makes a ticket price look more reasonable than a team who desolates opponents and portrays the joy of a five-year-old. With all the questions this team has answered over the last couple of months, one of the most meaningful ones might be who doesn’t want to watch the Warriors? Those who don’t must hate dessert, sunshine and the laughter of children, too.

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9 thoughts on “How the Golden State Warriors Became the Most Marketable Team in Professional Sports

  1. Tom says:

    That’s a great article. I seriously don’t get people who claim they ‘hate’ the Warriors. I get not liking them. That definitely stems from a deep-seated envy of a team who is currently at the top of their game (and possibly the ’95-’96 Bulls’ game, too). Simply put, they make for a really exciting conversation. I like the point you make about them drawing out not just basketball fans en masse, but sports fans in general. If you were to ask me if the GSW are a good or bad thing for the game, I think just that very fact, that they’re becoming a trending topic weekly, means that’s a great thing for the NBA. The NBA isn’t the NFL. It doesn’t just sell itself naturally. Its always had an uphill battle when it comes to competing for viewership. I also think it’s hilarious how Curry et al have all but robbed LeBron of the spotlight. No one’s talking about him anymore. Unfortunately.

    • LeBron is still a hardcourt icon, but Curry is the best in the NBA now. He’s the figurehead and deservedly so. I also agree Curry and the Warriors are great for the NBA because they’ve always struggled to market their product. First way to market yourself is to get some eyeballs and the Warriors are drawing a lot of eyeballs, mine included. Watched the last regular season game the Warriors played when they set the record. Was a blast and I don’t watch the NBA like at all. That’s changing. I’ll be watching Tuesday. Thanks for reading.

      • Tom says:

        Man I tell ya, the regular season finale games were incredible. Between the Warriors breaking the 72-win barrier and Kobe putting up 60 in his final career game, I didn’t know what to make a bigger deal out of. Lol I can’t wait for the Western Conference Finals this year. Spurs Vs Warriors holy shit

      • I’ll definitely be watching that series. It’s a shame it’s not the championship series. I don’t think the East has anyone who can compete with either of them.

      • Tom says:

        Yeah I lament the lopsidedness of the league as well. Cleveland and LBJ may give either of em a run, but I don’t see a situation where that series goes beyond 5 with a fully healthy Warriors or Spurs team. And there’s pretty much nobody else gonna be there besides Cleveland. I thought Boston might have had a shot but it wasn’t meant to be

      • The East better pray it is Cleveland representing them or they’ll get swept and utterly embarrassed.

  2. Jordan Dodd says:

    I’m with Tom, excellent article mate. They are indeed great for the sport, people like my Dad know who Curry is…. and they are so fun to watch! They play the game like no one else, though I do think defence in the NBA has become about 4 times as soft as it was in the 80s/90s.

    I also think that not enough people are giving credit top Mark Jackson. He started it all, got them over .500, and was fired for it. Kerr was lucky to inherit that team, Jackson did the real hard work.

    As a Bulls fan I have no horse in the race, so I’ll be watching GS a lot. I honestly thought at the start of the season we had a chance of winning it all. But just as Rose gets healthy, half the fucking team get injured. Grrr

    • I would have to disagree with you, about Jackson putting the team together. It’s Kerr’s offense they’re running and Joe Lacob’s (majority owner) persistence in the draft that has built this team. Regardless, Golden State is a hell of a team.

      • Jordan Dodd says:

        Hmmm, I know that Kerr is a hell of a coach (and commentator) but I still think Mark Jackson deserves some credit for getting them started. They were nowhere when he showed up! And now they are indeed one HELL of a team! Friends of mine who don’t like basketball like watching them, its crazy

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