Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NBA Take Note You Can't Run A Sport Like Hollywood

The music industry has been slowly dying. It is not just sales, but actual effects and stature. Fragmentation killed it. Sports on the other hand, besides football, are suffering as well. Baseball attendance is even down, and ratings are down. The NBA crows about a recent upswing yet is still not near the '90s peak. The story is the same for the NHL. Atomization, diversity and commercialization have hurt sports, but another problem was the attempt to market sports as entertainment in the manner of Hollywood.

Hollywood's system was built by Lew Wasserman. Connected to mobsters, he could get union help when needed, but he saw the importance of controlling the "talent". The talent drove box office receipts, which pre-VHS era was the means of making money. Wasserman's system lasted decades, but the idea still lives on that the star puts butts in the seats. Sports sadly copied this, but did not have the vision or experience of Hollywood. The star system can pull in marginal fans for ratings, but team loyalty is still the real driver. No sport has suffered from this more than the NBA. The NBA was the late comer to the sports media push with Finals games still on tape delay even in 1980 compared to mega World Series network ratings and the Super Bowl. The fatal flaw the NBA made was making the league all about Jordan in the '90s.

Jordan never losing a Finals hurt because he never had a rival or someone the league could market as an equal. Without that rival, the marketing was all about Jordan doing the amazing to win, again. The problem came when the music stopped. The search for the "next Jordan" became so pathetic that children could see the blatant pushing. The NBA has not reached Jordan ratings since his departure despite having the ESPN hype machine as its marketing arm for a decade and big market teams in Finals. The fact that the NBA has more publicity amd talk around where Lebron amd Carmelo will go in free agency than the actual playoffs (which had some great games) is a symptom of the league being a soap opera more than a sport.

Sports cannot be run like the movies and television. Different audiences, and sports fans will not tune in for a third rate product unlike "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" or the Bruckheimer-Bay movies. Whether the collegiate alma mater feeling, the family connections of who taught you how to play the game or simply hometown loyalty, sports are more tribal. Yes, fans cheer for the clothing as Jerry Seinfeld put it, but that laundry comes with history. Pittsburgh Steelers fans will always talk defense. Yankees fans believe in mystique and aura. The Packers are just a small town multimillion dollar business. That's what sports are built on. Building a sport on a handful semi-literate criminals is no way of running a sport, let alone a business.

*** If you dislike the sports posts, my apologies, but my Monday-Tuesday posts usually are linked by subject. Go back and see the pattern.


Mark Yuray said...

Great posts on sports. I enjoy your blog because you give some very refreshing and unique (some might say, neoreactionary) perspectives on topics that might otherwise go unnoticed and unanalyzed e.g. professional sports and the dollar decline.

Anonymous said...

Two books dealing with Wasserman I keep meaning to read: Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and the Mob and Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers.

Mike said...

Basketball is a victim of it's own nature. I can't think of any other sport where one player can make such a large difference towards an outcome. Before Lebron signed, Las Vegas was displaying different lines for teams to win the 2015 NBA title depending on if he was on the team or not. I remember the Heat were something like 7/2 with him, 33-1 without. Even megastars like Ruth or Gretzky wouldn't be that large of a difference maker.

Something you failed to mention is the cap on salaries for individual players in the NBA creates this courtship because the top players are paid below market value. I found myself wondering what a guy like Lebron would have signed for in 2010 or 2014. What percent of payroll would a team pay him?

Regarding the NFL, I wonder how much of its popularity is due to sports betting. Hands down the best sport to wager on.

Anonymous said...

A hipster t shirt I like: "my local sports franchise is superior to your local sports franchise"

The homogenization of everything has taken its toll-- sports is as globalized as MacDonald's-- and about as nourishing.

There is nothing to connect these "teams" to local communities so what is there to invest in?

Anonymous said...

The NBA went all thug all the time starting with Iverson in 1996. Most people tuned out.
Also it is no longer a team sport and is all about drama queens like Jabron Lames.
The high point was the mid 1980s when the games were on tape delay late at night on the east coast and the Bird vs. Magic rivalry was getting milked for all it was worth.
The No Fun League is next now that it is infested with PC and a liberal world view. People watch sports on the weekend to get away from all that not have it thrown in their face even more with pretty pink socks and busy body bleeding hearts whining over a sports team name that has been around for 80 years.

eah said...

Stopped paying attention to the NBA after the 80's -- the great Celtics/Lakers rivalry, 'Run TMC' in the SFBA (I was living there at the time). Now it's too ghetto -- lots of tatooed freaks. The NCAA is even worse, because it's so effing obvious that those guys do not belong in college.

Anonymous said...

Shhh...don't tell the NFL that pink sock is a street slang term for a distended anal tract.

Chris said...

Lots of good comments here. Some points I wanted to address.

1.) Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and the Mob

I also recommend Moldea's book on the NFL, "Interference". Eye-opening. As we've seen w/ Haslam & Irsay, the criminals aren't only the ones wearing the uniforms. The history of Rooneys & Maras is worth knowing.

2.) I can't think of any other sport where one player can make such a large difference towards an outcome.

QBs in football worth 7-8 wins a year out of 16 come close (Brady, Manning, Brees). That being said, Lebron is still underpaid and the NBA salary cap makes him that way, thus leading to massive competition to see who can get a $35M/year player at $20M. Re: betting on the NFL, I'd say a huge part. There are few things better in life than watching an NFL game with a little action on it.

3.) A hipster t shirt I like: "my local sports franchise is superior to your local sports franchise" that shirt is funny, but it's clear that in old-stock American cities (DET, CLE, BUF, PIT, BAL) local sports teams mean a bit more than in the sun-baked states. Competition for things to do in cold autumn & winter months probably a strong reason for this, along w/ ethnic whites using them to unite under one large regional flag. I consider this a good thing. Fuck hipsters.

SOBL makes a great point re: the NBA, it's done quite good with it's partnership with the NBA. The NBA occupies an awareness much higher than its actual ratings; the union of Jewish media interests and black fans is a strong one. "It's just so cool!" False. The regular season is a drag. The 2nd most important part of the season is the FA sweepstakes, which says a lot. Like SOBL, I tune in for the playoffs, usually in the 2nd round. One benefit that ESPN partnership has brought - great writers like Simmons and Zach Lowe covering your sport. I read them more than I actually watch the NBA.

nikcrit said...

The Packers are just a small town multimillion dollar business. That's what sports are built on.