What Can Hoops Teach PR? NBA, Dirk and King James Prove Content Reigns Supreme
By Jordan Hoefar, Account Coordinator, Digital Communications Group, Porter Novelli
If TV ratings and overall buzz is any indicator, the NBA has reemerged as one of the most compelling entertainment and sport brands in the US – a status it hasn’t enjoyed since the Michael Jordan era of basketball.
A season with soap-opera-like storylines comprised of hated superstars, overpaid duds, rising studs and an overall quantity and quality of talent that has never been seen before has kept viewers glued to televisions all season.
And now we enjoy the finale that seems to have been crafted in Hollywood – a Dallas team of talented veterans, led by a boisterous owner, take on the Dark Side of the NBA, a.k.a. the Miami Heat. At the time of writing this article, five compelling games, three of which were determined in the final seconds (and a fourth in the final minutes), have lived up to the hype. Have the close games saved the Finals brand? No. Instead, the first four games of the series have served as an exclamation mark at the end of a NBA season, which has shouted at passive basketball fans, demanding to be watched.
So what does this historic season and Finals mean for the NBA brand and its rising popularity? Just like in PR, marketing and advertising, content is king. And this season, there’s no better content than The King, LeBron James.
After ripping the heart out of the city of Cleveland by announcing his talents would go to South Beach, LeBron became one of the most scrutinized players in recent memory, if not of all time. People love to hate him. That seemingly universal hatred has attracted Finals viewers who would otherwise be watching B movies on Netflix. Why watch those dull movies when you can watch real-life drama masquerading as basketball?
LeBron’s situation epitomizes modern sports. Especially in the NBA, free agency has made sports more about the player and less about the team. Fans watch Clippers games in anticipation of Blake Griffin’s next SportsCenter highlight, not because they’re cheering for the Clippers.
It’s a safe bet that there is a strong correlation between the growing number of new NBA viewers and the several players with raw, borderline superhuman athleticism who have been drafted in recent years.
However, a landmine awaits the NBA this summer. It threatens to demolish the league’s path to continued success. Negotiations to replace the current collective bargaining agreement that is set to expire at the end of the season have already gotten off to a rocky start, as stakeholders have begun the daunting task of getting a new CBA in place.
The biggest issues will be a hard salary cap, player contracts and revenue sharing. If the current agreement were to be extended, the survival of small-market NBA teams would be at risk. As explained by a Bleacher Report article:
“The NBA relies heavily on ticket sales, local ad revenue and therefore, local television ratings in order to stay profitable. In order to keep butts in the seats, the league needs teams to be able to improve rapidly, which is still currently possible, but if the trend of superstars teaming up to create super teams continues, it will be more difficult.
Whenever a team stays stagnant for a few years, meaning they continue to win the same number of games and make no improvement, their fans stop coming, stop watching and stop buying merchandise. Take a look at the Atlanta Hawks. They have won 47 and 53 games over the last two full seasons, and are on pace for around 45-47 this season, yet they are 22nd in home attendance. They are a good team, but have no shot at a title, and their fans know it, so they are bored.”
Only time will tell if the CBA and potential lockout prove to be a landmine and, if so, how severe the damage is. However, one thing is certain: it is in the best interest of the fans, and therefore the NBA, to create a situation that allows the league’s biggest stars to play on the biggest stage.
When the summer of 2014 rolls around King James won’t have the appeal he did in 2011. The world will be clamoring to crown a new superstar. Someone who can reign supreme both on and off the court will capture the spotlight, wanted or not. When this time comes, fans will no longer care which superstar Blake Griffin dunked on – instead, the world will want to know which superstar will help him win a championship. After all, content is king. And there’s no bigger king of content ready to emerge than Blake Griffin.
Jordan Hoefar is a public relations professional and a part of the Digital Communications Group at Porter Novelli in Austin. He is a Texas native and longtime lover of all things sports, music and technology.