In PRWeek's August print issue, the focus of my column was the NBA lockout. As an observer of the PR industry, much of my attention was on the vast communications challenge the NBA would face if a work stoppage became prolonged, which at present is a reasonable possibility. As a more-than-casual fan of the game, however, I think about how I'll fill the gameless hours and my willingness to welcome the NBA back into my life as soon as the impasse is solved.
A third side of me – one that brings together Gideon the basketball nut and Gideon the PR observer – has been paying close attention to what NBA beat writers have been writing. What has struck me the most is how often the words “public relations” have appeared in columns and blogs by noted NBA journalists, such as the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner, and Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, just to name three.
The fact these reporters are referring to PR, which is very rare for them, in and of itself speaks to the legitimate and obvious communications problem the NBA has on its hands. Numerous NBA scribes have noted how the players and owners alike have seemingly learned nothing from the 1998-99 work stoppage, which saw the NBA lose sponsors and fans. And that was a time when its fan base was enjoying a thriving economy, nothing like the financial gloom and doom we are all trapped in today, which facilitates a total lack of sympathy for this "millionaires vs. billionaires" battle.
The NBA is not part of “Americana” like baseball. It's nowhere near as popular as the NFL, which solved its own labor issue this past summer and managed to avoid losing any games. The argument that claims the NBA will survive a lockout of any length because fans will always come back is hardly a slam dunk. And that's not only coming from someone who covers the PR industry. It's coming from respected sports journalists who don't contemplate PR matters very often.