Luka Dončić – The Link Between the NBA and Slovenia

July 2021 Living

Aljoša Žvirc

Slovenia has arguably never had a megastar in the making quite like Luka Dončić. The basketball phenomenon from Ljubljana has defied USA biased scepticism in his rookie campaign in the NBA and risen to global stardom in second and third season overseas. He is young, talented, highly skilful and plays with confidence – swagger, really.

So, for Dallas Mavericks it was nothing unusual to start exploring more than just sporting options in terms of their long-term commitment with the now 21-year-old. The agreement to work closely with Slovenian institutions in January 2020 was just a natural process for the NBA franchise, longing to hit the heights it once reached with another European, the German star Dirk Nowitzki. Usually, the NBA is seen as a business-driven competition, where trading players to reach short term competitive goals is a daily routine. Not Dallas, and certainly not with Dončić.

Champions: Slovenian National team won the gold medal at the Eurobasket 2017

The Mavericks hope to have its star for years to come and they want to exercise as many options as possible in terms of business opportunities in his home country. Never shying away from wanting to play for Slovenia, the Mavericks recognized the special connection Dončić has with his country and formed their own. The team is trying to benefit and also “present the country as a unique destination in terms of economy, investment possibilities and tourism,” as per the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB) on the day they struck a commercial deal with the Mavs. Through Dončić, the partnership will hope to increase the visibility of Slovenia, which provides numerous opportunities heading both ways. The project has brought together numerous other public institutions like the Government Communication Office of the Republic of Slovenia (UKOM), the STB, the Public Agency for Entrepreneurship, Internationalization, Foreign Investments and Technology (SPIRIT) and Ljubljana Tourism, wrote STB on their website.

Together, these institutions have undertaken several promotional activities linked with NBA games with special Slovenian themes and phrases, tourism opportunities, and other links. “Slovenia is getting more and more popular in the USA and Luka Dončić has put on quite a show. We have been brought together at the right time and such synergies would otherwise not be generated. This project definitely upgrades the STB activities in the US market,” the Board’s director Maja Pak pointed out. And so far, it has worked a treat in both ways. Especially as Dončić is hitting his stride in his third season s a fan favourite in the US.

SLOVENIA VS SLOVENIA: The sponsorship battle

Arguably Slovenia’s biggest sporting success came in September 2017, when the national basketball team became European champions in Istanbul, Turkey. Yet the shirts of both finalists were fighting another battle.

On the one side, sponsor Telemach, the Slovenian telecommunications company (a subsidiary of Netherlands’ United Group) is, among others, a long-standing main sponsor of the Slovenian basketball association (KZS). On the other side, the Slovenian insurance company Triglav, a longterm partner of the Serbian national team.

The company is well known in the Adriatic region with many subsidiaries and was spreading their reach through sporting events even before landing a spot on the shirt of one of the most iconic national teams in the Balkans. Triglav was previously a sponsor for the preliminary round of the EuroBasket 2013 in Croatia with an investment worth more than EUR 150,000, and later one of the main sponsors for the EuroBasket 2015 in Slovenia, before signing a long-term deal with the Serbian Basketball Federation while the national team was preparing for the championships in Kranjska Gora. The strategic positioning in Serbia, and the reach Triglav has through its subsidiaries, is nothing new as big companies, commercially- or statedriven, still benefit from partners from a former republic, or reap the rewards of being a trusted company. Triglav also sponsors the North Macedonian Olympic Committee and the North Macedonian handball national teams, while it was also handed the Superbrand title for its standing in that region.


This article was originally published in The Adriatic Journal: Strategic Foresight 2021
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