The D-League has changed its name to the G-League thanks to a new sponsorship from Gatorade.
What a difference a letter can make.
The NBA on Tuesday will announce a renaming of its Development League, with the “D-League” set to be known as the “G-League” starting in the 2017-18 season because of a multiyear partnership with Gatorade. This marks the first time a U.S. professional sports league has named an entitlement partner.
As deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum sees it, this is a groundbreaking way to maximize the synergy that already existed between these two institutions that have been doing business together since 1986. As far back as Nov. 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made it clear that finding a sponsor for the D-League was a priority.
“What we started talking about was a true partnership and how we could leverage Gatorade’s sports science expertise to be able to enhance the performance — the on-court performance — of our athletes in the Development League,” Tatum told USA TODAY Sports by phone on Monday. “That’s how we started having these conversations, and then it emerged into entitlement discussions because it was so linked in terms of the efficacy that they could provide to our players, the ability to enhance their performance, and recovery. It made so much sense to us to … align even more closely the two different brands together.”
Beyond the new logos that will be forthcoming on game balls and team jerseys for the league’s 25 teams, or the signage on the court and online, it’s the Gatorade Sports Science Institute that’s the epicenter of their excitement.
The facilities, in Bradenton, Fla., and Barrington, Ill., are geared toward maximizing athlete performance and health through research, education, innovation and high-caliber sports nutrition science.
And now, the Gatorade scientists will partner with the G-League on player nutrition and training programs.
“We loved the idea that it meant something more than just putting your name on a league,” Brett O’Brien, Gatorade’s senior vice president and general manager, told USA TODAY Sports. “We were really passionate about, ‘Hey this is about GSSI (the Gatorade Sports Science Institute).’
” ‘This is about sports fuel, about training with athletes, learning from those these athletes, taking those (lessons) and then using those (lessons) to then create product to help athletes everywhere and gain from that learning.’ We’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
None of this would have happened if the D-League hadn’t grown immensely in recent years.
Since its inception with eight teams in 2001, 20 of the 25 D-League teams are now owned by NBA teams and player call-ups to the NBA are at an all-time high. As part of the recent negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement that was finalized in mid-December, each NBA team will have the ability to carry two “two-way players” starting next season (increasing the maximum roster size to 17).
That means players who contribute to the NBA team will be paid more for their time with the parent club, all while giving organizations greater control over prospects who are part of their program.
“(The growth) is a function of our NBA coaches and our NBA GMs, and ultimately our NBA owners, who recognize that this league is an effective, efficient place to develop talent,” said D-League President Malcolm Turner, who also noted how the Santa Cruz Warriors set a new single-game attendance record on Sunday night in a first-ever game at Oracle Arena (17,497). “This league continues to create value throughout the NBA system.”
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.