How the NBA Uses All-Star Weekend as a Public Relations Tool

 

i-love-this-game-1442766-640x480

All-Star Weekend is a hit on all fronts for the NBA. Photo by Daniel.

The NBA All-Star weekend came to a close Sunday, Feb. 14 following the Western Conference’s All-Stars’ defeat of the Eastern Conference All-Stars in an exhibition game composing of some of the league’s best talents. The jam-packed weekend was highlighted by incredible dunks, immensely talented shooters, the always amusing All-Star Celebrity Game and the 65th All-Star Game.

 

All-Star weekend hasn’t always been filled with such a variety of entertainment. In fact, many events were introduced and have gone through a number of formats as a response to declining viewership and ratings of the All-Star Game itself. The NBA’s course of action in implementing new features to the weekend festivities has proven to be a hit for the league and broadcasters.

The NBA All-Star game was first introduced in 1951, but it wasn’t until the ’80s that the league introduced the Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point competition. The two games stand in almost stark contrast to one another. The dunk contest showcases the raw athletic potential of its athletes and leaves viewers in awe that the human body can reach such incredible highs. On the other end of the spectrum, the Three-Point Challenge displays the pure skill that players have developed from countless hours spent perfecting their games in the gym.

In 2003, the NBA introduced the Celebrity All-Star Game. Celebrities from wide-ranging fields such as government, entertainment, retired NBA legends and WNBA stars typically compose the rosters. I think the game is wildly successful because it reaches audiences who have little to no interest in watching basketball. For instance, Justin Bieber participated in the 2011 celebrity game and put on a pretty respectable show. Despite his mediocre performance and place on the losing side, the pop icon was named MVP as a result of his legion of fans swarming the vote. While I’m making very sweeping generalization, I think it is safe to say that Bieber’s demographic and the NBA’s demographic don’t overlap that much, so the relationship between the two was beneficial for both. The NBA gained an audience it was desperately trying to reach in children and young adults by making the connection with Bieber, and he used the nationally broadcast game as a platform to “sell” himself to his publics. This year, the Celebrity All-Star game audience continued to grow and continues to be a hit for the league.

For the NBA, adding these events opened up more opportunities to generate revenue during a period in which no games are played. For instance, this All-Star weekend was flanked by two days rest before the All-Star game and three days after it. That was six days of no regular season action. From the players’ perspectives, the All-Star break is a chance to rest and get away from the grueling work and travel they experience. By packing the weekend with events, the NBA can give back to its employees in time away, which keeps them happy.

What started as a dream game showcasing the best players in the NBA has turned into three-day extravaganza for the league. The festivities brilliantly allow the NBA to reach new audiences, maintain good relations with current audiences, and satisfy its employees with a week-long break in the middle of the year. The NFL could learn a thing or two.

The Importance of the Student in Student-Athlete.

 

basketball-net-1474671-640x480

The dark side of college athletics can be nasty. Photo By Kim W.

While the nation was entrenched in the Super Bowl two weeks ago, a small but very important anniversary in the sports universe went largely unnoticed. Feb. 7 marked the first anniversary of the death of Dean Smith, the legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach. A man revered for his commitment to integrity and the importance of academics in collegiate athletics, Smith and the powerhouse UNC program he built were shining examples that excellence on the basketball court could coincide with excellence in the classroom. Today, the university that Smith helped forge an impeccable identity with finds itself embedded in one of the largest academic scandals in NCAA history. As details continue to pour out, the university is tasked with maintaining its reputation as one of the most prestigious universities in the country and reassuring its audiences that academics do not take a backseat to athletics.

 

The scandal revolves around the African-American Studies department at UNC and scam classes that have become known as “paper classes.” These classes never met and simply required a single paper to pass. On the surface, the classes don’t sound entirely like shams– just somewhat. But when you see what passes for an A grade and the demographics of them you see exactly what they were created for. They were simply meant to maintain NCAA eligibility requirements and move athletes right along.

PR wise, the scandal is an utter disaster for not just UNC, but also the NCAA ruling body. One of the chief concepts (that is highly debated) behind collegiate athletics is that the education scholarship athletes receive are proper compensation for their work at the school. But what happens when that education is diluted by grade mill classes? It just further amplifies the public perception that schools are using athletes as profit and exposure generators.

The University of North Carolina’s responses up to this point have been about as good a university charged with “lack of institutional control” can be. In 2013, the Chancellor of UNC, Holden Thorp, stepped down and in his place stepped Carol Folt who implemented 70 reform plans. The reforms were made to ensure the public that serious changes were being made in light of the scandal.

One of the best ways the University of North Carolina has responded to the scandal was launching a portal on the school’s official website regarding the issue in 2014. The page lays everything out for you, from press releases to university progress reports. The Carolina Commitment page serves as a form of transparency and is used as a communication channel for the university to speak directly with audiences seeking information. Chancellor Folt releasing statements on the page about any updates is a great example of good crisis response work by the university. It shows from the head down that the school is making efforts in ridding the university of institutional dishonesty. The transparency is important because it shows that UNC is not shying away and hoping for the scandal to just disappear. Instead, UNC is taking action and showing you the reforming work the school has implemented and the progress it is making. That transparency shows is mutually beneficial for UNC and its publics because the feedback its audiences gives in response to the school’s strategies shows what is working and what needs changing.

I can’t imagine that if Dean Smith was still alive he would feel much pride toward UNC for the fact that it allowed this to even happen in the first place. However, I think he would have appreciated the work the school has put in righting its wrongs. In the meantime, at least its not SMU.