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Globetrotters’ Media-Driven Transition Spurs Record-Setting Tour Sales

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Globetrotters’ Media-Driven Transition Spurs Record-Setting Tour Sales

The Harlem Globetrotters’ 2024 World Tour recently stopped in New York City. The team rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange before playing a game at Madison Square Garden the next day.

The Globetrotters (and their opponents, the Generals) will play ~250 U.S. dates and another ~150 abroad this year. But the near century-old basketball franchise, it will turn 100 in ’26, is no longer just a touring business. 

Former long-time senior Nickelodeon executive Keith Dawkins, now president of the Globetrotters and Herschend Entertainment Studios (Herschend Family Entertainment owns the team), has been working to leverage the organization’s IP as if it were SpongeBob SquarePants or another beloved cartoon character. 

The idea is to “move the Globetrotters to the center of [a flywheel and have] the tour, consumer products, content, digital and social media, licensing, [and] all these other extension points coming off it,” Dawkins said. “If we get [the execution] right and partner with best-in-class companies, with [our] giant addressable audience, [people] should be talking about this brand for another 100 years.”


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The Harlem Globetrotters were founded in 1926. The brand’s heyday came several decades later when stars like Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon starred for the team.

“That’s when the Globetrotters were on TV, on Scooby-Doo, doing guest appearances, and showing up on [kids’] lunch boxes,” Dawkins said.

But the franchise has struggled to connect with the generations that have come of age since.

“My boys are 22 and 19,” Dawkins said. “Everyone in my family is a sports player, sports lover, [and] content consumer. [We have] 10,000 devices and all the platforms. [My wife and I work in the] media and entertainment industry. And the Globetrotters [still never existed] in this house.”

That’s because as the sports and media business began getting more sophisticated in the ‘90s and ‘00s, Globetrotters’ ownership at the time failed to keep up. Despite the emergence of new media channels (see: cable television) and technologies (think: video game platforms), the only way fans could interact with the IP was to attend a tour stop.

“Brands die when they stop being nurtured and/or they’re not paying attention to the environment in which they live,” Dawkins said. “When I was a kid, Bugs Bunny was everything. It’s like Bugs doesn’t exist [today].”

The logic was spreading the Globetrotters IP too thin would be cannibalistic to the tour business. But the team was popular in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, in part, because the brand was omnipresent (hence the decision to appear at the NYSE). 

“Part of [selling more seats] is having more people talking about the Harlem Globetrotters,” Dawkins said.

While the Globetrotters did fine financially as solely a touring business, the pandemic shed light on the vulnerabilities associated with being so heavily reliant on a single revenue stream (and subsequently some of the opportunities it was missing out on, including digital media). 

Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. brought Dawkins in to help transition the Globetrotters into a multi-faceted entertainment brand with a well-rounded business model.

“You need to be swimming down all the pipes where the audience is and meet them where they are [in their fan journey],” he said. 

That includes on broadcast television.

“As much as people want to discuss the work the streamers are doing, linear still drives [the most] eyeballs,” Dawkins said.

The Globetrotters returned to network TV for the first time in 40 years in October ’22 with a weekly show focused on the players’ work in the community. Harlem Globetrotters: Play it Forward reaches 800,000 to 1 million viewers per episode across NBC and Telemundo (Peacock and Cozi TV air it too).

The emotional intelligence programming is produced in partnership with Hearst Media Production Group. Dawkins was familiar with EI content, and the market for it, from his time at Viacom (now Paramount). 

But that is not where the Globetrotters’ media ambitions end.

“We want to develop a [content] slate that [includes] documentaries, scripted and unscripted, game show formats, and animation; short form and long form,” Dawkins said. “We’re [actively] talking to all the distributors and working all the relationships that we have in the space.”

The organization believes a market exists for game broadcasts internationally too. 

Dawkins spent much of the last two years building out the company’s licensing and consumer product merchandising lines. His goal is to ensure the Globetrotters are present when fans (or potential fans) pick up a mobile device, turn on a gaming platform, or walk into a retail location.

Strategic partnerships, like the ones initiated with Sprayground, ZARA, Spalding, Lids, and UNDRCRWN, help to drive revenue. 

“They [also] create more consumer touchpoints, deeper emotional connections [with fans], and bring [the brand] to retail in ways that are authentic,” Dawkins said.

Prior to Dawkins’ arrival, Globetrotter products could only be purchased at tour stops.

And perhaps most importantly, strategic brand partners serve as ‘ambassadors’ lending credibility to the resurgent brand. 

The Globetrotters’ sponsorship portfolio has also been growing. The brand’s feel-good nature is attractive to partners, and there seems to be interest in, if not excitement around, the organization’s vision for the future. 

Jersey Mikes (presenting sponsor of the ’24 World Tour), Microsoft, Comic Relief, and the State Department have all signed on within the last 24 months.

The Globetrotters have found most of their success under Dawkins aligning with media platforms and brands that have decision-makers between the ages of 45 and 70. It’s logical to wonder how the company’s revamped media-driven strategy will fare as younger generations begin assuming decision making roles.

“That’s a scary proposition,” Dawkins acknowledged, even if the tour remains –and will remain– the lifeblood of the business. 75-80% of Globetrotters revenue is still derived from its North American tour stops (think: ticket and merchandise sales). 

The organization understands it cannot reach, or deeply connect with, the totality of its potential global following with just an in-person offering. 

To the contrary, “by expanding what we do, growing and diversifying business lines, the tour will benefit,” Dawkins said. 

The early returns seem to confirm as much. 

“New York was our highest grossing stop [in more than two decades],” Dawkins said. 

The Globetrotters sold more than 12,000 tickets for the show.

A large portion of those in attendance were under the age of 10.

“There is always a new generation of kids [or fans'] coming in. So, that’s a new opportunity [for sports properties] to connect with a new group of families,” Dawkins said. “There is [always] the audience who grew up with [the IP you can appeal to too]. But you have to keep at it with these brands [and go] down different pathways.”

Doing so will keep them relevant, and could lead to outsized returns. Even for a brand or IP that has been out of the spotlight for a while. Just look at the success Barbie and Super Mario Bros enjoyed this past summer.

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