DEPICTIONIST

An exploration of personal and professional storytelling through narrative branding.

 

I know that I am highly biased, but I’ve always felt that the NBA is much more about Narrative than other sports. The NFL is about Camaraderie*, MLB is about Nostalgia. But I feel like Narrative is the NBA’s calling card—“Where Amazing Happens.” 

NBA games are marketed as epic tales, told with the rich back-stories of its heros. Halftime interviews get personal, get deep… we want the meat because we know and care about the individuals playing the game. More than the stats, we want to know why Kevin Durant slept in the curtains of the local gym as a kid; what composes of Ray Allen’s OCD pre-game routine that leads to that perfect jumper; how LeBron fell out of touch and from good grace; and who coached Dirk day-in and day-out from childhood in Germany to soul searching walkabouts in the Australian bush and eventual to the Championship this past June… NBA fans—even mildly casual ones—know the answers to these. They are part of the narrative weave of the NBA brand. They are what makes it special, what makes it Amazing. 

But this deeply personal connection between the NBA and its fans is, however, incredibly one-sided. At least from a corporate/brand standpoint (I’m not talking about the players—the product—but the company). The leadership of the league is in ruthless pursuit of its bottom line and, despite the “NBA Cares” campaign, does not care about its fans. There is little “love of the game” in the front office headquarters of the Association. 

The NBA has priced many of its truest fans out of the arenas. They bleed the local legislatures dry in search for public tax dollars to build these overpriced arenas. And they hang the threat of relocating the team if the government does not cooperate. And when they don’t, the NBA guts the teams from their homes and traditions for a more favorable circumstance. That is my story with this company… and yet I still purchase the product. 

What other company could get away with this? Absolutely none, I’m sure. I mean, it’s illegal for one: it’s a monopoly for all intents and purposes, except for the legal paperwork. And beyond that, it’s just horrible, horrible business.

Now, on top of that, the million- and billionaire owners have now locked out its players and have canceled the first two weeks of the season (with threats of more to drop as the days pass), once again leaving the fans with nothing in return for their undying devotion. All this on the heels of the most successful, entertaining, and exciting seasons in decades. TV viewership was through the roof! Yet still, sighting claims of lost money on the whole, the owners have shut the doors and left their thousands of employees—from the players down to the arena personnel—jobless. 

What other company could get away with this?! What other company would be stupid enough to do this? Anywhere else this would be suicide. But, not with the NBA. 

The NBA was counting on you to be a sucker. You’d be a sucker because the league just intentionally damaged its brand and devalued its product by showing its willingness to do without it, secure in the knowledge that fans would still come back once this was over

— J.A. Adande, ESPN.com

I hate to admit it, but I 100% will. Because I love the product, I love the players, I love the game… but I do hate the company. Well, actions speak louder than words, so I suppose there’s no point even trying to make any justifying claims. 

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* I just spoke with someone who misunderstood this so I’ll offer a little clarification: I’m not saying there’s goodwill between the two teams. No, I’m talking about how buddies get together to watch the games with nachos and beer serving as important a role as the TV; I’m talking hours of pre-game tailgating, high-fiving yours after the first downs, uniting yourself to your alum (school/city). That kind of camaraderie, I believe, is crucial to the NFL brand—and to football (the product) on a whole. 

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