The Harlem Globetrotters hadn’t had a television series since the 1970s—that is, until Keith Dawkins came along.
The iconic basketball exhibition team—founded in Chicago in 1926—has long relied on its live tours to engage a passionate fan base, with its legendary performances showcasing twists on traditional NBA rules. But to keep the century-old brand relevant, Dawkins, who joined the organization in early 2022 as president, set out to establish a new presence in a vastly changed media landscape.
“Content in all forms is really important for us because it allows us to have a 365-day-a-year conversation with the audience and activate on that in whichever shape we choose,” said Dawkins, who will be appearing at Brandweek on Sept. 12 to talk about the evolution of the brand.
TV was an obvious choice. After all, the CBS Saturday morning Harlem Globetrotters cartoon from the ’70s became a cult hit. The animated Globetrotters even palled around with Scooby-Doo and the gang in multiple Hanna-Barbera-produced movies after the show’s cancellation.
Though launching a successful TV series is easier said than done, Dawkins had substantial experience in the space.
In addition to running his own brand as founder and CEO of Rock Hill Media Ventures, the Globetrotters president previously spent nearly 18 years at Viacom, launching sports initiatives at Nickelodeon to cultivate strategic partnerships with leagues such as the NFL, Nascar and the MLS.
The content conversations that have opened up, the sponsorship conversations that have opened up … its visibility and success has been a big part of that.
Keith Dawkins, president, Harlem Globetrotters
So Dawkins tasked himself with bringing the Globetrotters back to the TV airwaves, introducing them to a new generation in what he told Adweek was a “seismic move for the organization.”
“It was an opportunity to tell the story of the Globetrotters off the court in terms of the Goodwill Ambassador work, the social impact work,” Dawkins said.
And that move paid off.
Scoring with TV audiences
The TV deal closed “quickly,” according to Dawkins, and the series went into production in summer 2022, debuting late last year.
In partnership with Hearst Media Production Group, the 30-minute show, Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward, airs during NBC’s The More You Know programming block on Saturdays and appears on NBC’s digital properties. It also brings in outside talent, with comedian Craig Robinson lending his hosting skills to the series.
To date, Harlem Globetrotters: Play It Forward reaches 800,000 viewers per week, with some episodes surpassing a million.