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SBJ/June 20 - 26, 2005/OpinionPrint All
You always like to end strong. The Super Bowl, the World Series and the Final Four are season capstones that maximize attention on the sport, capture once-a-year viewers with compelling storylines and serve as significant business tools to drive revenue. You want significant attention focused exclusively on the competition and the competitors.
It’s not working out this year for the NBA and its playoffs.
Fan-favorite teams and representatives of the big media markets were absent or early departures from the playoffs, and TV viewership reflected it. Headed into the Finals, postseason ratings were down 26 percent on ABC, down 12 percent on TNT and down 3.7 percent on ESPN. The Detroit-San Antonio final round, as of last week, was trending double digits below last year, which included the soap opera-filled storylines of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Speaking of Detroit and San Antonio, coaches and players alike criticized what they saw as pregame distractions before Game 1 of the Finals: overlong introductions, elaborate musical acts, production cables in the way. In-arena entertainment is a big part of the NBA, but it shouldn’t overshadow the game, or feel forced or contrived.
As for overshadowing the series, ABC and the NBA PR machine oddly allowed the Lakers to seem a part of this year’s Finals. Even the most casual observer can read between the lines when ratings reports compare numbers to prior non-Lakers Finals. The Lakers further dominated the spotlight with the announcement that Phil Jackson would return as coach.
The PR approach was odd. The Lakers’ hiring could have been made after the Finals. Instead, ABC touted an interview with Jackson before the Finals, as if that were more important than the game. Such team news is something the league may want to extend greater control over in the future so that the emphasis is on the Finals — and the worthy competitors involved — and not some other distraction.
And then there’s the prospect of a lockout. NBA Commissioner David Stern, NBPA chief Billy Hunter and many others are openly predicting a labor impasse when the current collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30. The particulars here are baffling, because a compromise seems reachable. The sides are battling over the length of guaranteed contracts (seven years or six), minimum player ages (yes or no) and drug testing. Real issues, yes; worth a lockout, no.
The NBA, like the NHL, is in no position to anger fans again with an arrogant display of negotiations. A lockout would surely lead to greater fan erosion and disinterest in a league that is not top of mind among consumers these days.
The NBA has seen so many positives this season — record attendance, exciting young players, new interest in Miami, Stern’s forceful leadership after the fan-player brawl in Detroit. After that, it’s all the more puzzling that the league seems poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
You’re in trouble, aren’t you? I’m a mother. I can tell. Your success depends on a strong fan base and you’re slipping, aren’t you? Without a lot of fans, you don’t sell tickets, TV ads, merchandise or any of that stuff that assures you future returns on your investment.
Take my advice. Listen to your mother.
Listen to all 82 million of us! And pay close attention to the 32 million who still have kids at home. Where do you think that fan base you need so badly is going to come from? How do great sports fans from little T-ball players grow? With a mother’s love and care.
Moms write the checks to sign up the kids for sports and take them to practice. Moms buy the uniforms, the shoes, the team pictures and the team snacks. Moms run most of the volunteer organizations. Moms keep the family schedules to make sure that every child gets where he or she is supposed to be on time. Moms are the No. 1 cheerleaders at every game, and often coach as well. So moms are intensely involved in sports at the very lowest — grassroots — level.
But Mom’s — and women’s — love of sports doesn’t stop with the Little League closing ceremonies. Let me share a few eye-opening statistics with you. As far back as 1997, over 40 percent of the audience for all men’s professional sports was women. The expectation is that by 2030, 50 percent will be women.
Today an estimated 43 percent of the NFL’s audience is female. The proportion is even higher for Major League Baseball. The NHL attracts 33 percent women, and the NBA reports 19 percent female fans. Add it all up and you get 50 million female pro sports fans. Most of them are mothers.
In 1999, Major League Baseball commissioned a study on women and baseball. They learned, and subsequent studies have reiterated, that mothers are the primary decision-makers regarding most household matters, including the vast majority of leisure activity decisions. Moms buy the tickets.
But if you want to get into my purse (the one with the almost $2 trillion in it), you’re going to have to do a few things:
› Clean up your act! Health and safety are very important to mothers. It shouldn’t be a scary proposition to send an 11-year-old to the bathroom.
› Have a heart! Strengthen your commitment to your community. Your social conscience is an important part of that sought-after word-of-mouth among moms. If you do good, we’ll tell everybody.
› Consider Mom’s comfort. If you’re going to slap an ad on every wall, use some of that revenue on Mom. Improve walkways, lighting, seating and yes, bathrooms. Put shelves under the seats so that when an energetic fan kicks over a beer, it misses my purse. Put drink holders on the chair arms so that it’s harder to knock over that beer in the first place.
› This is going to be very hard for you to understand, but it’s true: Moms don’t believe that winning is everything. Stop muttering. I know exactly what you’re saying, but you’re wrong. Moms support you whether you are winning or not. And not even George Steinbrenner always wins. Mom is the touchstone for the heart and the keeper of family traditions. Behave and she’ll stick with you. But if you don’t behave, she’ll take that purse full of money, whistle you off the field, and go to a college or minor league game.
Recognize that Mom — not you — controls the turnstile for the next generation of sports fans. She will spend money for memorable family entertainment. The rest is up to you. I know these things. I’m a mother.n
Nora Lee is a consultant, speaker and author of “The Mom Factor: What Really Drives Where We Shop, Eat, and Play.”