PR in Sports

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Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James

Can Social Media Change the “One and Done” Rule?

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Harrison Barnes announced his college choice via Skype

Professional athletes have entered the realm of social media in full force. The smart ones are joining sites like Twitter, creating Facebook Pages and enhancing their own websites in an effort to build their personal brand and market themselves. But, pro athletes aren’t the only athletes working on their personal brand using this exploding form of personalized communication.

The top high school athletes in the country are popping up all over Twitter, Facebook and more. Kyrie Irving, the 9th ranked basketball player in the class of 2010 according, played out much of his recruitment on Twitter, and he’s not the only one. It’s also common place for the top high school basketball and football players to announce their college of choice on ESPNU.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when the #1 ranked basketball player in the country used an innovative online tool to announce his college of choice Friday evening. Harrison Barnes wanted to do something nobody had done before.

In the middle of his press conference on ESPNU, Barnes said he would be attending the school “of the coach I’m about to Skype”, then dramatically stood up from the podium and walked over to a laptop to  use the video messaging service Skype, to video conference North Carolina Coach Roy Williams.

The result of this new movement? The “Social Media Athlete”.

The “Social Media Athlete” is communicating with fans on a personal, sometimes one-on-one level. Social media isn’t solely responsible for more polished 18 year-old athletes. This movement began years ago, but direct communication tools like Twitter, Facebook and Skype have young athletes not only crafting their message, but developing entire recruitment campaigns, thus beginning to build their personal brand as early as high school.

Seriously, watch the video of the Barnes news conference. Before he “Skyped” Coach Williams, Barnes individually thanked the media outlets that covered his recruitment in a carefully crafted speech.  That’s right, he thanked the media individually. PR folks and media can attest, that’s virtually unheard of. Barnes seemed closer to what we’ll expect out of LeBron James when he announces his destination next summer, than a high school kid announcing a college. Not that LeBron will thank the media!

This focus on personal branding by athletes at much earlier ages makes sense though. The top high school players and their handlers see the potential and realize they’ll be in the NBA after just one year of college. But, what will the effect be?

Can the “Social Media Athlete” be a catalyst for eliminating the NBA rule that mandates players be one year out of high school before they can enter the draft?

It’s a possibility. Let’s be real, that rule isn’t about academics or physical development, it’s about marketing. Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were fine, but when 5-6 high school players a year began going straight to the NBA, fans didn’t know who they were, so they weren’t marketable. Now, with the “Social Media Athlete” these players are becoming household names at earlier ages.

The question though, is this focus on personal branding at such a young age a good thing? Probably not. But, I’m sure one person out there is loving it. I’m looking at you David Stern!

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 16, 2009 at 12:03 am

NBA Needs to Address Officiating Issue

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LeBron James is averaging just 1.72 fouls per game this season

LeBron James is averaging just 1.72 fouls per game this season

I came across a very interesting article on the Chicago Bulls website by well known basketball columnist Sam Smith. Smith uses some very telling stats to investigate the star treatment that LeBron James receives from officials. It’s a must read and Smith brings to light some statistics that will make the NBA’s league office cringe. Smith writes:

“James is averaging 1.72 fouls per game in an average of 37.9 minutes per game. James hasn’t even been in foul trouble one game this season. He never has had more than four fouls called on him in a game, and since March 1 is being called for fewer than 1.3 fouls per game.

In 12 of the 20 games since then, James has been called for one or zero fouls in a game. James had a stretch of five straight games to conclude March averaging 36.8 minutes per game without being called for one foul. Not one in five games! In the last nine games, James has been called for three personal fouls. It’s really amazing given the involvement James has in the action of the game.”

Smith’s statistics are staggering, 5 games without a single foul called? That’s incredible for a player as aggressive as James. Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists that thinks David Stern is sitting in a room ordering referees to make sure the Cavs and Lakers end up in the finals. That does not happen. But, the NBA has been accused of referees providing star treatment for years, and coming off the heals of the Tim Donaghy scandal, they need to address the issue.

Stern has often denied conspiracy theories involving referees, and most likely he’s being honest, but this is now a perception/PR issue. Whether there is a conspiracy theory or not, whether players like James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant get star treatment or not, the fact is that fans believe something isn’t right. Many in the media believe this as well.

Instead of consistent denials, Stern and the NBA need to address the issue head on, especially with the playoffs quickly approaching where scrutiny of officials will only increase. The league is very protective of the access they grant media to their officials, but it’s time to pull the curtain back. It’s time for transparency. Many thought this would happen following the Donaghy fiasco, but it hasn’t.

To my knowledge the NBA doesn’t employ a PR person specifically dedicated to the referees, but it’s definitely time for that. This position could work exclusively with referees and allow a certain level of monitored access following controversial, or all games or that matter. It isn’t a myth that NBA refs watch each and every game to critique themselves. Stern is not blowing smoke when he says the NBA critiques their refs diligently. So, why hide the critique?

I understand there has to be some protection, but it’s time to let media and fans see what goes on behind the scenes. Let media and fans see how assignments are handed out for playoff games. Bring TV cameras into the referees room following games to see them reviewing questionable calls. Let media and fans see how the league office grades the officials. Although, I’d recommend using a network that doesn’t pay the league billions of dollars for broadcasting rights.

The bottom line is that those LeBron James foul stats are incredible and undeniable, and the league has a severe credibility issue on this topic that they need to address. I love pretty much all sports, but I’m definitely an NBA guy and have been a huge fan nearly my entire life, so I really want to see the league address this issue and put it to bed for good. For the sake of the league, the officials and the fans.

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Written by Brian Gleason

April 8, 2009 at 10:08 pm

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