When Tokyo-based Rakuten expanded to the United States, establishing strong, influential partnerships was a major goal for the tech company. Now, Rakuten has added one of the most influential figures in sports to its list of partners: the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry.
In January, Curry announced that he was teaming up with Rakuten for his Underrated Tour, a series of basketball camps for unsigned high school players with a three-star ranking or below.
“The whole underrated story, and his story of coming up through the ranks and being told he couldn’t do it and then breaking through that — for us, in our history as a company, we’ve been underdogs,” said Kristen Gambetta, director of sports and entertainment for the U.S. branch of Rakuten. “We, as a company, relate to having that mentality and breaking into new markets like the American region and being an underdog. We’re a big global company, and we’re constantly trying to innovate and be better, so we saw this great alignment around optimism, which is something core to who we are and who Stephen is.”
Participants receive hands-on training from Curry’s trainer, Brandon Payne, and other elite coaches, as well as guest lectures, team-building exercises and information on NCAA eligibility.
“In doing this, he’s providing a platform for kids to really have a better future and the chance of being seen by college coaches wouldn’t have seen them before,” said Gambetta, who was on the team responsible for establishing the partnership. “Our company believes in the future, and it’s really important to us that this platform is leaving an impact on kids coming out of the camps.”
“That’s the idea behind the Underrated Tour: to create a basketball camp, in partnership with Rakuten, for any unsigned high school players rated three stars and below,” wrote Curry in The Players’ Tribune. “A camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for the chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.”
Because of Rakuten’s involvement, there is no cost to camp attendees. In turn, Curry will provide exposure for Rakuten’s U.S. branch, through appearances and promotions.
“We’re a growing brand in the U.S. because we’re headquartered in Japan with a massive presence, so we’re trying to take that model and build up in the U.S.,” Gambetta said. “Partnering with Steph on a global level is powerful for us to work with him and help align ourselves with our shared values.”
The tour will also take advantage of Rakuten’s established technology.
“As they were building the tour platform, they were consulting with us on different pieces, and it wasn’t all cookie-cutter,” Gambetta explained. “It was very collaborative, like, ‘Does this feel right to you as presenting partner?’ and cross-checking that and making sure we could integrate our business services, such as our messaging app, Viber. It’s used to notify attendees and give them exclusive content. It’s a private space for them to interact.”
Rakuten is already the official partner of the Golden State Warriors, so when Curry’s camp came knocking, it was a natural fit.
“They reached out to us, thinking we’d be an interesting fit because they were looking to work with someone more global in nature, so there was that international fit, as well as us being the Warriors’ patch partner,” Gambetta said.
“The Underrated Tour is Stephen’s brainchild, rooted in meaningful and authentic insights from his journey,” said Curry’s business partner, Jeron Smith. “We saw a unique opportunity to shine a light on Steph’s story in a way that hasn’t been done before and inspire the next generation of underrated athletes. This is the latest example of Steph using his platform to make a difference, and we’re thrilled to partner with Rakuten to help empower others.”
So far, the tour has made stops in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Phoenix, with stops in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Oakland on the upcoming schedule.
“We were on the ground in Los Angeles when [Curry] dropped in, and it was amazing seeing him pull aside the kids,” Gambetta said. “I’ve worked in this industry for a long time, and to see such a big star interact with them, pulling them aside, coaching them — he’s always authentic and humble, and what he provides these kids is invaluable.”
The most recent stop in Phoenix was exclusively available to high school girls and included an informational panel with members of the sports industry.
“This is something that is another shared value; providing that opportunity for women was something we collaborated on, to ensure an all-girls stop,” Gambetta said. “We were excited to see that come to life. He’s been outspoken about that, like the Players’ Tribune piece, and that just further instilled that we’re working with the right person with shared values that we’re passionate about. We want to ensure that we’re inclusive in our activations as well, so that gives us that opportunity.”
Considering the positive response from camp participants, Gambetta and her team are satisfied with the results of the partnership so far.
“I think giving that platform to kids who are not five-star athletes, we thought it would be powerful, but you don’t know until it comes to life,” Gambetta said. “It’s been very positive. One of our other core values is empowerment, and you could feel that these kids felt they were empowered to break through the status quo of people telling them they can’t do it and that they’re underdogs.”