The NBA labor dispute, which reports indicate could jeopardize the entire 2011-2012 season, is a communications nightmare. Beyond the obvious impact to the league, there are many other entities who will feel the sting of this work stoppage, which only exacerbates matters.
Let's start with the brands that partner with the NBA, many of whom have spent serious money and effort on those partnerships, buoyed by the belief that an association with an uber-popular sport can benefit them on many levels - awareness, reaching the right demographics for a potential sales spike, and so on.
As discussed at the recent PRWeek/Catalyst Public Relations sports PR roundtable, which will be written up in our September issue, brands have to scale back or even halt NBA-related programs since there is no product with which to associate. Momentum, a key element when brands partner with sports entities, is totally shot.
On the other end of the court are the league's numerous charitable endeavors. Commissioner David Stern, whose heretofore strong legacy will certainly be tested, insisted during the NBA Finals that all community outreach efforts will go on as planned. That's fine, but they won't have the same impact.
The 10th annual Basketball Without Borders program, which offers on-court instruction and life-skills seminars to youngsters, began last month in Slovenia, South Africa, and Brazil. Unfortunately, this will be the first such camp - due to the lockout - without active players. Former NBA center Vlade Divac will take part in Slovenia. A nice draw, but kids want to meet their current heroes and won't get that chance. Another loss.
Of course, fans are the biggest losers here. As billionaire owners battle millionaire players, we are deprived the year-round enjoyment the NBA gives us.
It's a mistake to assume fans will only care about this once actual games are missed. However, with elements such as fantasy basketball and the endless stream of blogs where fans can discuss free agency, goings-on with their favorite stars, and so on, the NBA is a year-round topic of great interest. Fans feel the lockout right now.
Will they come back upon resolution? Some might not, but most will. However, a prolonged lockout, coupled with its impact on so many entities besides the league, players, and owners, will test the NBA's ability to rebound unlike any previous crisis.
Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. Reach him at email@example.com.