If content deals were basketball plays, Rock Hill Media Ventures’ partnership with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has the makings of a slam dunk.
The media and social impact company—led by former Nickelodeon exec Keith Dawkins—has inked an agreement with the labor union of the NBA to bring its players into the kids and family entertainment space.
Through the NBPA, New York-based Rock Hill now has access to all 450 athletes represented by the union, including Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks (last year’s NBA MVP) and veteran superstar LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dawkins, Rock Hill’s founder and CEO, is overseeing the strategy alongside Christina Norman, head of content for the NBPA’s licensing and business development division, THINK450. Though the partnership is new, Dawkins has known Norman since her days at Viacom running MTV and VH1 in the 2000s.
Dawkins himself is well-versed in the world of sports. He launched the Nickelodeon Sports con- tent and marketing initiative while at Viacom, and later became CEO of nonprofit youth development org The First Tee. Since founding Rock Hill in 2018, he has inked content deals with Believe Entertainment (Dear Basketball, The LeBrons) and former NFLer and children’s author Rashad Jennings.
Rock Hill’s deal with the NBPA is unique because it’s the first one where NBA players won’t have to be secured through their individual representatives.
Players will still be able to secure their own deals outside of the agreement (think LeBron James’s producer credit on Warner Bros.’ upcoming Space Jam sequel), but this won’t limit Rock Hill’s player outreach strategy. “We are hoping the strength of our relationship [with the NBPA] will help elevate opportunities and engage players who might have never considered the kids market,” he says.
Though outreach has begun, details around prospective talent, new IPs and partners are under wraps for now. Dawkins adds that the co-venture is ripe for opportunities in animated and live-action content for preschoolers and six- to 11-year-olds.
As for concepts that address racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement—of which the NBA has been a vocal supporter—Dawkins says they could potentially explore the issues in kid- appropriate ways.
“There’s a strong diversity and inclusion component to the partnership because we’ll be establishing opportunities for creators of color and bringing new voices to the marketplace,” he says.
There’s been growing demand for inclusive and diverse stories, Dawkins adds, as well as a huge opportunity in international markets—and NBA players are primed to fill it. More than 80% of NBA players are BIPOC, according to the Institute for Ethics and Diversity in Sport (compared to only 40% of Major League Baseball athletes), and nearly 25% of the league’s players were born outside the US.
Dawkins adds that today’s NBA athletes are also more engaged with kids content, making their relatability to youngsters that much stronger.
“Today’s generation either grew up as super-fans of the Nickelodeons, Cartoon Networks and Disneys of the world, or they now have kids of their own engaging with the same type of content,” he says.
So far, Dawkins says the partnership has been well received by the industry, and plans are in motion to bring some new IPs into the marketplace next year.
“Whatever opportunity we can unearth together, we will,” he says.