Posts Tagged ‘NBA’
I stumbled upon an old Bill Simmons (@SportsGuy33) column in which he discusses the dwindling access that reporters have to today’s athlete. His general premise is that social media is boxing out tradition sports media. Simmons hearkens back to a time when David Halberstam had one-on-one access for his book The Breaks of the Game, and reporters often hungout with the very athletes they covered. He calls it the “Scotch ‘n Sirloin Era”, with the current era being “The Twitter Era”.
But, Simmons may not be the best authority on this topic. In my time in the Boston Celtics PR Department, I never saw Simmons in the locker room or at a shoot-around during media access, and never had a player interview request from him cross my desk, or that of my co-workers. But, his column still raises an interesting topic.
How has the role of the PR person and sports media access in general been affected by social media, if at all? Is social media basically boxing out the traditional sports media?
To gain a little more informed insight, I spoke with someone who’s been in the trenches on this issue from the start, long-time NBA PR man Terry Lyons (@TerryLyons). Lyons worked in the NBA from his days as a PR intern in 1981, up until 2007, when he moved on to start Terry Lyons Sports Marketing LLC. During his time, Lyons worked every NBA Finals, All-Star Weekend, NBA Draft and international event, including serving as the PR person for the Original Dream Team in 1992. He knows and understands this issue as well as anyone!
One word dominated our discussion, “relationships.” Media access has changed, but according to Lyons, it’s better. Like in the “old days”, reporters just have to be willing to build relationships. “People have to develop relationships,” Lyons said. “PR people can assist in that process, but the individual personalities get it done. The media that take time to get to know the players are still the ones that the players end up trusting more, and they’ll get the access.”
Yes, in the NBA specifically, media seating continues to move further from the court, and the hordes of media surrounding players has increased tremendously. But, has the access actually “dwindled faster than A-Rod’s pectorals”, as Simmons put it?
“Access is tremendous,” said Lyons. “NBA players are available more than ever. Shoot-around is a great time, it’s a little easier on the road when there’s less numbers, but if a reporter can develop a close enough relationship with a player, there’s no reason they can’t get the player to walk back to the hotel and grab a cup of coffee with them. It isn’t hard if they spend the time, then they’ll get all the access they need.”
Simmons mentions how athletes use of social media pretty much cuts out the middle man, specifically reporters. But, according to Lyons, “Athletesto fans is not new, it’s just changed. New used to be doing live interviews on radio, then it was TV, then color TV, then satellite and cable TV, now the Internet. Media are now more threatened and more defensive of their ‘turf’… they missed the boat, as they say, because they aren’t a dying breed. The Boston Globe reporters are now Boston.com reporters. Period.”
To answer the question, the access athletes and fans have to each other has evolved, and the way these mediums affect traditional sports media has changed, but the access is still there. Like Lyons suggests, access is still based on tried and true relationship building. Something social media can’t “box out”, it can only enhance, assuming traditional media embraces the changes.
I owe Mike Schaffer, who runs #SportsPRChat on Twitter, a big thanks. I began participating in the chats last week, and not only are the they a great forum to connect with other sports and PR professionals, but they’re also a great source of blog ideas! With that said, another great topic was brought up last week, whether or not the NBA, fans and media are making too big a deal of the Washington Wizards Gilbert Arenas bringing a gun into the locker room.
For those living under a rock, Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge for bringing an unregistered gun into the Washington Wizards locker room. Since the initial charge, Arenas has been suspended indefinitely by the NBA, been dropped by Adidas and most likely will lose the remaining $80 million he’s still owed by the Wizards.
So, between a potential short jail stint, losing $147,208 every time the Wizards step on the court and getting killed in the media and court of public opinion, is Arenas paying too much of a price, especially considering the gun wasn’t loaded and it seemed to be more of a joke than anything else?
I say absolutely not! As someone that spent over four years working in an NBA locker room almost daily, I can attest that the phrase “the locker room is a sacred place” is accurate. What some don’t always realize is that in professional sports it’s not just the players and coaches on the inside. There’s media, team PR, marketing and community relations staff, equipment staff and trainers as well as ball boys who often times are high school kids or younger.
The Arenas situation has me wondering, maybe I’ve been in a locker room that had guns inside. It’s definitely a possibility, and I can tell you I would have been very uncomfortable had I known at the time. The ball boy thing makes this especially bad in my opinion though.
During the course of a game night it’s not uncommon for a player to have a ball boy go into his personal locker. Usually it’s something like getting money for a post-game food run. But regardless of the reason, it could have been a young ball boy that found the gun Arenas’ locker! Loaded or not, the possibility of bad outcomes are endless, and Arenas definitely broke a sacred trust.
From my personal and PR perspective, the NBA, media and sponsors are handling this situation just fine. That’s not to say Arenas doesn’t deserve a second chance, but David Stern bringing down the hammer shows media, team personnel and Arenas’ peers they will be safe in the locker room. It shows fans and sponsors the NBA is taking this issue extremely seriously.
So kudos to Stern, the Wizards and media who are holding Arenas accountable. Here’s to also hoping Arenas has learned a lesson and is able to resurrect his career.
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.