League takes to star-driven entertainment
Because the National Basketball Assn. labor lockout disrupted the regular season, the league’s All-Star Game was delayed, by happenstance airing opposite the Academy Awards.In terms of overlapping demographics, the two events don’t exactly play the same game, which is perhaps why the scheduling conflict produced little outcry. Yet when it comes to what has improbably become a glittering NBA season, there’s a lot the entertainment community can learn from pro basketball, and not just the best way to marry (and divorce) a Kardashian sister. Right now, basketball is on a roll. And while nobody could ever credit all the NBA’s good fortune to premeditation, the results beautifully illustrate the value of two qualities always much in demand around Hollywood: Compelling storytelling and exciting showmanship. For starters, there’s much to be said for geography, and the NBA happens to have unearthed gold mines conveniently situated in the U.S.’ largest media markets: New York and L.A. The spectacular emergence of Jeremy Lin with the New York Knicks — a Taiwanese American who attended Harvard, having been all but ignored coming out of high school and college — has captured the public’s imagination as a classic underdog story. Moreover, coming on the heels of the lockout, Lin’s arrival counts as nothing less than a marketing godsend. Indeed, of the innumerable stories written about Lin, many have observed his tale is so good and uplifting that no writer could have scripted it. Not only does the point guard transcend any individual sport, but thanks to his lineage, the coverage has advanced the NBA’s objective of becoming a global product — a strategy, not coincidentally, of vital importance to the major studios. Across the country, meanwhile, Clippers sensation Blake Griffin has for the first time in modern memory turned Los Angeles into a two-team basketball town. His spectacular dunks seem tailor-made to the social-media generation and TV’s highlight shows, with a thunderous dunk against Oklahoma City generating more than 4.5 million YouTube views alone via NBA.com. In terms of PPP (a made-up stat for “publicity per point”), Griffin might be the league’s most valuable player, proving that not all baskets are equal. Clearly, the NBA and its stars understand personality-driven entertainment; LeBron James’ decision to “take his talents” to Miami, dramatically delivered on live TV, inadvertently created an ongoing soap opera that helped fuel ratings, complete with heroes and villains. As for management, owners have recognized a reality brimming with implications for Hollywood — namely, a two-tiered system consisting of marquee players who generate viral buzz and put butts in seats; and journeymen supporting casts, compensated at a much lower level. Riding this wave of star power, storytelling and controversy — as witnessed in the NFL with Denver’s evangelical quarterback, Tim Tebow — has powered the sports leagues through their labor disputes, which from a glance seemed to court disaster, pitting millionaire players against billionaire owners as the average American struggles to make ends meet in tough economic times.