Ronnie Singh — more well-known as Ronnie2K —might be one of the most prominent success stories in the industry when it comes to carving out a niche.
He grew up an avid fan of the San Francisco 49ers, plastering his bedroom walls with any newspaper clippings that further sculpted his fandom. He participated in all sports, but a certain affinity for basketball spawned as his youth turned into adolescence. As his academic career evolved to the University of California San Diego, he churned through numerous majors, unsure of what he exactly wanted to do in his life. A passion for working in sports was apparent, but a path for getting there was not entirely visible.
“I always wanted to work in sports, so I was just bouncing around. It was super frustrating for me, my folks, and my family because I kept changing majors.”Absent of the many Sport Management programs that are in place today, Singh would eventually settle on majoring in Economic Management Science with a minor in Law. He was going to attempt to venture down the familiar path of being a sports agent. After taking the LSAT, Singh shifted his focus again, deciding that getting into the workforce right away and gathering experiences could heap future gains.
“I went to work for two different law firms — Morrison & Foerster and Fish & Richardson. But I just wasn’t really liking it. Midway through my second job at Fish, I sought this opportunity — it kind of landed on my lap — to work for a women’s basketball team in San Diego.”
An audible from a good job in a traditional industry to the flirtatious sports industry is becoming more commonplace, but not without its initial warts.
“I was working at this law firm making tons of money and I was working for this sports team making no money really. I had to go one way or the other, so I decided to just do the sports thing and hope for the best.”
Ah, the classic welcome to the sports business moment we all know and love!
After a brief stint with the women’s basketball team, Singh pivoted to a marketing position with a San Diego-based minor league baseball team. His first order of business: sign Jose Canseco at the height of his Juiced fame.“I brought Jose on and got him signed due to our personal relationship when I was younger. About a week after he was on the team, he found out there was a team in Long Beach, so we ended up trading him. A week later, they were coming back to visit the San Diego team, so the night before, we bought these juice boxes and stickers of his face and put them on the juice boxes, and this is like six months after his book came out about the steroid stuff. It just blew up. It was on SportsCenter, it was everywhere. So this was my first viral marketing quote unquote campaign.”
A star at his day job, Singh still relished in honing his craft in perhaps his greatest passion: playing 2K.
“I was like most other kids — I played 2K after I got off work and just really enjoyed playing. I was on the leader boards for NFL and NBA 2K5, but I had been playing 2K since (it was) 2K. After a couple of years of writing on the message boards, there was this opportunity to run the forums. So I started with that position, and social media started to grow and I started to carve out my own niche. There was experiences along the way that were really big moments. Now I have all of the followers that I have and it’s pretty crazy.”
Singh parlayed being an avid gamer, active message board user, and eventual forum leader into becoming a social media stalwart, and the eventual de facto face of the NBA 2K franchise. His niche had been carved, and with it came great responsibility.
Today, Singh is the digital marketing director at 2K, has a social imprint that is usurped by only a few handful of elite NBA players along with a contact list that would make top NBA agents blush, and in many ways, serves as the link between the 2K community, the players, and the developers. When users are clamoring to know the rating of their favorite player, Singh’s Twitter mentions are cast into overdrive. When a player has a gripe about his rating (*cough* John Wall), Singh is the one who bears the brunt of the beef, and most of the time, it is by way of his own influence.
“John and I have been friends for a long time. This is all tongue and cheek stuff that’s very orchestrated. It’s all to drive as many eyeballs as possible.”There is no coincidence that his rise is correlated to the elevation of the 2K franchise as a whole, but make no mistake, his marketing prowess is a key cog in the machine. He is a master at garnering said eyeballs.
Many executives have a marketing ethos that they like to stay accountable to, and Singh is no different. He knows that a glut of his fan base has a tendency to shut off from the rest of the world when NBA 2K releases — significant others are ignored, obligations to society are pushed aside — and he has done a great job of leveraging that through assorted campaigns including 2K Day.
“The biggest mission statement of my job is tie to whatever is the latest and greatest and make it about 2K. The league (NBA) has done a really good job of becoming a 365 league which has made it necessary for us to be a 365 game offering.”
Singh applies his ethos by attaching both himself and the 2K brand to the players and events that are socially relevant during a given moment. It may sound simple in the aggregate, but sometimes simplicity is the ultimate display of sophistication.
“If there is a huge event, like Devin Booker’s 70-point game, let’s try to tie to those moments, both from an in-game perspective in terms of what we’re delivering for content like moments cards, but also from a ‘let’s connect to this person so that people think of the game’.”
Connection to players during the season when game action is a daily occurrence is one thing, but keeping the conversation circulating during the offseason is an entirely different animal to tackle. Even throughout the dog days of August, NBA 2K was continually scattered throughout my social feeds. One day a trailer would be released, the next week would bring along screenshots of gameplay. But no social currency has been more valuable to both Singh and the 2K brand than the topic of ratings.Approximately 214 NBA players constructed a post about their rating on a social platform before the game released this month per Singh, and the debate and circulation that each rating sequesters is invaluable in the cutthroat game of obtaining eyeballs. And the best part is, Singh and his staff don’t pay a dime for it.
“Other brands are paying significant money for those kind of postings. And we don’t — we have a strict policy to not do that.”
Marketing mantras aside, Singh is sure to downplay his impact on the game’s popularity in comparison to the hundreds of members of the development team. Without a great product to take to market, his job would present its fair share of challenges.
“The game is so good and it keeps getting better and bigger and more mindblowing. I’m very lucky that I work at a company with a bunch of really brilliant people that allow me to just put some gasoline on the fire. I’m one of 400, and I am very lucky to work with the people that I work with.”
In terms of advice for those who thirst to reach the heights of the industry that he has eclipsed, Singh emphasizes the idea of seeking out your niche.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that if you really, really, really want to do something you can figure out a way to make money doing it. There’s a million ways to get here, but once you get here, you have to work really hard to carve out a niche and continue to pursue that passion.”