Branding the World of Sports

NBA experiences Best of Times and Worst of Times

Posted by ZA on June 16, 2008

If you asked David Stern last October what NBA Finals match up he dreams about every night before falling asleep, he would have undoubtedly said the Boston Celtics versus the Los Angeles Lakers.  The match upof two storied franchises from opposite ends of the country that both have bright shining stars; they would be the perfect pair to play for a title.  Stern got his dream in 2008, as they Celtics and Lakers are waging war in what could be remembered as an epic final.  The match up is so good that the league’s website set a record for hits in a day for a single sports website.  On June 5th, which was the date of Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, the league website recorded over 5.6 million hits.  That number blew away the previous record, also set by, of 3.4 million hits set on June 7, 2007.

What NBA Commissioner Stern would never have expected was that even as his dream match up played out on the court and on millions of television sets around the globe, he’d still be in the midst of a nightmare.  Stern’s nightmare is dealing with the fallout of the referee scandal that involved Tim Donaghy, a story that now has led to accusations that the league office fixed games.  The situation has gotten so bad for Stern that his beloved basketball league now has a major image issue it must fix.  They must repair the damage that the scandal and subsequent accusations have done to the integrity of his sport, and he must do it quickly before it further tarnishes the sport.  The solution is to quit; Stern should step down as Commissioner of the NBA.

Some will think that solution is using excessive force, or cutting off a leg to fix an ingrown toenail.  The reality is that it is going to take some dramatic steps in order for the NBA to fix their image issues.  A survey by Ad Age showed that over 40% of respondents think the NBA plays a role in “fixing” games, and over a quarter of people polled think the NBA setup a Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals match up.  Numbers that high show that the NBA’s brand has been hugely affected by the referee scandal, and that perceived lack of integrity will soon start to have a bigger effect on revenues.

The best way to restore people’s faith in the league is to act quickly and decisively to fix their issue.  Stern’s attempt at damage control in going on television to refute the accusations has been falling on deaf ears, as the league has still taking a barrage of criticism in the media and cyberspace.  Now its time for him to choose the success of the NBA over his own career by stepping down as league Commissioner.  Stern has been Commissioner of the NBA since 1984 and his tenure has seen great expansion in the league, so he doesn’t need to resign in shame.  Instead Stern can send a clear message that the NBA is bigger than anyone one person (Donaghy or Stern) and turn over the reigns to a handpicked successor.  A new face in-charge of the league would instill faith in the fans that a new era is coming, one in which referee cheating and league tampering will not occur.  Stern would usher out the bad feelings people have with his retirement, and the new league Commissioner would be the strong character person who is taking the league into positive new territory.

Are there other things that Stern and the NBA can do to fix the current situation?  Sure, other heads could roll.  Or they conduct a massive campaign to try to prove that no other referees were involved in wrong doing.  Ultimately nothing else would be as decisive as Commission David Stern saying its time for a change and stepping aside to let the league continue on without all of these negative distractions.

Would David Stern ever agree to something like that?  Would he in effect ‘take a bullet’ for the NBA?  Hard to imagine him doing it, because he’s got a huge ego and loves the spotlight.  He probably also has a skewed view of the situation, not realizing how critical it is to lose people’s trust in his sport.  But who knows, maybe Stern has it in him to the right thing and step down.

Do you think David Stern turning over the Commission role to a strong new character would help the NBA’s damaged image?

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