Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why The NBA Is Backed Into The Corner

With Lakers-Celtics the only NBA Finals outcome that has a remote chance of having appeal with non-avid NBA fans nationwide, the NBA is in a bit of a tight spot:

Either they can reject the "history" angle and end up with TV ratings like last year's Finals or embrace the history and essentially say: "Remember how good the NBA used to be?"

Here's what I wrote in the SN column today:
Nope: "Back to the Future" is the NBA's only option. And that's kind of pathetic, like the fan approaching 40 who can't get over their high school glory days.

It is a testament to the hollowness of the NBA's so-called revival this season that its best playoff outcome leans on fan nostalgia for the mid-1980s.

(And not even every fan -- if you're under 30, you have little or no recollection of why Lakers-Celtics is the NBA's best rivalry. And if you're over 30, no one under 30 wants to hear your pull-the-ladder-up-behind-you stories about how great the NBA used to be.)

"Where 1987 Happens" is not what I think the NBA had in mind as its 2008 playoff marketing slogan.
Thoughts on this? And please keep in mind that I'm not talking about avid NBA fan interest in the playoffs, which will be there no matter who is playing. I'm talking about reaching the casual fan -- particularly the younger casual fan.

-- D.S.


Josh R. said...

I'm not sure how this is different from other leagues. Nobody would care about a World Series that didn't involve Boston or New York or another team from a large city. You think Anaheim vs. Arizona or Colorado vs. Oakland would get the non-hardcore fans in line to sit in front of the television set? The NFL is in a bit better position because the Super Bowl have become an EVENT and this eventiness can carry it in the years when teams nobody cares about are playing. But do you really think that people would care about a Jaguars vs. Seahawks Super Bowl? Or a Titans vs. Tampa Bay game? The MLB and NFL have been lucky these past few years.

Unknown said...

In some ways, I totally agree with you--that the NBA is backed into a corner here--but in anther sense, I think that is too narrow of thinking.

So on the first hand, the NBA Finals are the culmination of the season, the Playoffs, everything. When it is a big deal (like MJ-Utah, Bird-Magic), it gives the NBA en masse some serious cache and extends into the average (especially young) fan's life.

But the NBA (and basketball) is so much bigger and different than it was 10 and 20 years ago. Yes the NBA Finals is the ultimate stage for the best 2 teams in the world, but it is no longer the only stage.

Yao v. Yi 1.0 was a huge stage for the global NBA crowd. Twice as many viewers as the Super Bowl. The 2008 Olympics should be epic and in large part because of the NBA. All of the big names in the NBA will be there, and it's no longer USA-centric. Team USA might not even medal!

The players are no longer players, they are celebrities. Dwyane Wade is in every other commercial, LeBron is one of the most popular figures in America, Yao Ming is China's golden boy, DeSagana Diop is a bigger deal in Senegal than Akon!

All of this kicks back to the NBA's appeal to the casual fan. It's not getting there through the NBA Finals (at least not right now), but it's still getting there.

Mike D said...

Dan basically I think that it comes down big market vs small market players and teams. Lakers vs Celtics would probably be the best thing for the NBA, but not the only thing. Suns could easily replace the lakers. Suns have big market players like Shaq, Nash, and Amare. Even with Shaq the suns still play a fan favorite style.