NBA Lockout: An Airball Marketing Strategy

Not much can top competitive sport when it’s pure. However, the landscape of professional athletics has changed and there’s no going back. It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. Player strikes and lockouts (a work stoppage forced by the owners) have become seemingly commonplace in our world. In 1994, there was no World Series due to a players strike. The entire 2004-2005 NHL season was wiped out because of an owners’ lockout (though most people didn’t even notice). America held its breath at the possibility of losing its favorite sport as NFL owners and players battled their differences out this summer. Most recently, it was the NBA’s turn.

The National Basketball Association “locked out” its players in July, meaning players couldn’t access team facilities, contact staff members, or work out with team trainers. Most importantly, no games could be played. It stemmed from the sharing of league revenue. The league claimed it was losing money, so players must take a pay cut. The players say that without them, there is no NBA. Therefore, they deserve what they’re getting (if not more).

Everyone is looking for a bigger piece of the proverbial pie.

The lockout has been settled, and a shortened season is just under a month away. But while the owners and players struggled to gain public support throughout the stoppage, the average fan was left with nothing but empty arenas and reality competitions to suffer through.

Christmas Day will mark the beginning of the shortened basketball season, but what has the NBA cost itself (aside from 18 games)? The NBA Brand has taken a big hit. So what will their marketing team have to do in order to return the league to prominence?


Fix Brand Image

Why not give some of that back and help your loyal supporters?

The league seemed to follow the model of “Any publicity is good publicity.”

When the only stories reported about the NBA were how the owners and players union were squabbling and name calling, the league resembles a 6th grade playground. That’s not good for business.

Refurbishing a brand image is simple in theory. The NBA Marketing team simply needs to make people forget about the bad press and replace that image with a good, clean one. But how do they do that?

Give back to their communities. This is essential.

A company worth hundreds of millions of dollars can certainly afford to spare finances to help the struggling people who have supported them over the years. Free youth clinics, repaving park side basketball courts, donations to schools, or granting more Make-A-Wish dreams are just a few simple ways for the league to get back in the public’s good graces.

Make amends with their friends and neighbors.

While the league and players battled over percentage points, the stadium workers couldn’t pay their mortgages and businesses around the arenas, reliant on the crowds to sustain themselves, were forced to shut their doors permanently. Rebuilding literally starts across the street.


Restore Credibility of Brand Reps

The goal is to win fans back, not to alienate them.

A company/brand is only as good as the people who comprise it. In this scrimmage, all of the brand representatives (the players and owners) came off as wholly unlikeable. While people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families in these tough economic times, the last thing they want to hear about are billionaires fighting millionaires over dump trucks full of money.

This is a long way from the Michael Jordan era or the heyday of the Bird vs. Magic rivalry. People identified with those teams and players. The Kobes and LeBrons of this NBA need to step up and work hard, do things the right way. This is what wins fans back. Not contract disputes and alienating fan bases.


Reparations to Those Hurt Most

For most families, basketball games just aren't in the budget.

When all is said and done, the owners will make their money and the players will get paid (quite handsomely as the league minimum reported by Inside Hoops last season was $473,604). The fans however will be left with a sour taste in our mouths. How can the NBA win fans back? They have to give them something.

A study done by Reuters found that the average ticket price for an NBA game last season was $48.08 per ticket. After taxes and fees, it would cost a family of four over $200 to attend a game! That doesn’t even take into account paying for parking, snacks, and souvenirs at the arena.

Reduce ticket prices so the average fan can go. The more people able to enjoy a product, the more repeat business it will get. Allowing more fans access to the full NBA experience will help rebuild the fan base as well as help it grow for the future.


With sports, it’s the “Gladiator” effect:  “Win the crowd.” Major League Baseball had the Sosa/McGwire home run record chase to get fans back (however tainted steroids have made that now). Hockey stumbled along until the 2010 Winter Olympics brought it back to life.

What can the NBA do? They should listen to any, and all, suggestions from the fans. Including yours.

What ARE your suggestions for the NBA?

Image credit to Doug L. and StuSeeger.

Alex Brodsky

Alex is a video specialist and blogger at Quality Logo Products, putting his media background and screenwriting training to good use. When he's not working, he enjoys tinkering with his fantasy sports lineups, engaging in cheeky shenanigans, and cuddling. He must also get all of his caffeine from pop as he can't stand coffee. You can also connect with Alex on Google+.


  1. Jay

    Nice one, Alex!

    As concerned as I am with the league’s overall success, I’m more concerned with watching D. Rose running all over Kobe’s old ass on Christmas day.

    I agree on all fronts, the league’s image has been tarnished by this and the owners made themselves look really bad. Bad to the point where the average fan starts to resent them. The BS they pulled in stating their “losses” for some owners was laughable and borderline fraudulent. Other teams (we know who they are), simply need to go. This is capitalism, if you aren’t making money, you fail. You don’t expect the owners to absorb the cost of having to keep a horribly-run franchise like the Raptors still playing in the league. It’s bad business, and if the owners and Stern had been doing their job properly in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. Of course, the players get vilified because of the money they make, but it isn’t their fault these billionaires are throwing millions of dollars at them right out of college (or high school). You can’t expect the players to take a pay cut. You want to get the league back to a respectable standing with the fans AND players… spread that money around a little bit and see what happens. They can only stand to make MORE money by being fair…. and the players union has the balls to break up if it comes to it. A federal investigation into antitrust laws is the LAST thing the owners want to deal with.

    • Alex Brodsky

      I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of league contraction. Teams like the Bobcats and the Grizzlies have no business existing if their owners aren’t willing to “spend money to make money.”

      And it IS easy to vilify the players, but if somebody wanted to give me millions of dollars for my blogging talents, I’d surely let them do it.

  2. Eric

    A.) Welcome to the squad, Alex, and B.) thanks for helping rep’ the male demographic, too (hence, sports-themed posts like this one…huzzah!).

    It’s funny you brought up the baseball strike back in ’94. I used to go to games more often than not, and for some reason, after that years, things weren’t – and for some, still aren’t – the same.

    I wish the NBA could have some foresight and see past the fact that, yes, this may only be a lockout for a few months, and maybe a season, but it’s going to impact the association and sport as a whole.

    Trust me, the last thing some blue-collar fan is going to want to hear is that his sport’s being held-up by some folks who don’t think they’re making enough money…especially in this time and this economy. I’m all for – like you said – bringing tickets down to an accessible, manageable level, and bringing in the crowds and the interest the sports needs to thrive. You need to give the fans some reason to ditch the plasma-screen to come out and see the real deal. Sadly (after just having checked the price on Bears tickets) it looks like we’re at a point where the plasma screen’s cheaper than taking the family to a game.

    • Alex Brodsky

      A) Thank you for the warm welcome. B) I’ll do my best to make the posts as manly as possible.

      The baseball strike nearly killed me. Baseball is my favorite sport, and the fact that my Chicago White Sox were probably World Series bound that season just made it hurt even more. It took a lot of time for me to give my heart back to baseball, and it might take just as long for basketball (although the Bulls picking up where they left off and being as good as last season would speed it up).

      But ticket prices for all sporting events are ridiculously high. Football is just far and away the most out of whack and ridiculous (yet they sell out all the time)

      • Eric

        Sox fan, too? Out here in Aurora? Glad to know I’m not the only one! For some reason it feels like Wrigleyville West out here, sometimes.

        You can likely thank ticket prices for keeping folks away from games. I’ve been to my fair share of ’em, but most the time, I’m using comps or some from a friends. If they wanted to establish a larger fan base, and keep them coming, and coming back time and time again, they’d find some way to knock them down a few bucks.

  3. Jen

    Great debut post Alex, and welcome to the Blog Squad!

    I agree that the NBA needs to appease their fans somehow (if they have fans still). I think you’re onto something when you mention ticket prices. $50 seems a bit steep for one ticket. They should so do a buy on get one deal for their fans to get them back into the arena. I would totally be down for that, and then I would spend the other $50+ on beer and pretzels at the game. Win!

    Whatever they decide to do, hopefully it’s good, the fans are not happy with them right now!

    • Alex Brodsky

      Exactly! If you save the fans $50 when they’ve already mentally spent it, they will undoubtedly spend it at the most convenient time, which would be at the game. Everybody wins.

  4. JPorretto

    I agree with a lot of points made here (and in the comments), but I feel that they JUST BARELY may have saved their reputation with ending the lockout when they did. Of course they’ve angered us hard-core fans, but an 82 game season doesn’t usually get much national attention until around Christmas day anyway, and if the postseason is as good as it was last year, this will be a distant memory by June…. I think.

    • Alex Brodsky

      You make a good point. The NBA season is a marathon when compared to the NFL’s 16-game sprint. Shortening the season might actually help keep interest since by the end of the playoffs, the season seems to be dragging on (unless the Bulls are dominating!)

  5. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great first post and welcome the squad, Alex!

    I’m not the hugest sports fan and I haven’t really followed the details of the lockout closely, but if there is one sport I’ll watch live, it’s basketball. So I agree emphatically with your point about restoring credibility to the brand representatives. I realize that there are lots of details and financial matters that go into this, but essentially, yes, when I hear about managers/owners/players squabbling over billions, my reaction is an instant eye roll. A lot of them make in a year what I can only hope to make over the course of my entire life.

    • Alex Brodsky

      Thank you, Mandy.

      It’s true. There comes a point where the average, everyday citizen just hits that “they’re too greedy” point and loses all sympathy. I feel like owners and players always forget the fact that they’re being played to play a GAME.

  6. amy

    I’m sorry I don’t have much to add about the NBA lock out, but I couldn’t agree more with you about reducing the costs of ticket prices. It seems like all professional sports teams prices have gotten out of control.

    I love watching baseball and both the Cubs and White Sox prices are getting to be too rich for my blood 🙁 Like you said, by the time you factor in transportation, food, beer, and a souvenir you’re looking at spending the same amount as you would on a weekend vacation. I’d go to more games during the summer, but unless I find some rich relative I’ll have to settle for watching them on TV.

    Great post, Alex! Welcome to the squad 😀

    • Alex Brodsky

      It’s true, way too expensive for baseball games. The White Sox used to be pretty cheap, but when they won the World Series in ’05, the tickets skyrocketed because they knew people would pay to see a winner :-/

      The worst beer story I’ve ever had at a baseball game: It was $9 for a Miller Lite at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Miller Park is LITERALLY across the street from the Miller Brewery. They could basically wheel the beer over to the stadium for zero shipping costs, yet they still charged $9!

      • amy

        Wow, that’s just mean. I understand that by charging more for the beer you can keep people from getting drunk, but c’mon $9 for a Miller Lite?!?! At least make it so that if I bring back the cup I get a discounted price on my second glass. Pfft, ridiculous.

  7. Joseph Giorgi

    I’m not a “sports guy” by any means, but even I can agree that the notion of “billionaires fighting millionaires” for the sake of a few extra dollars in their pockets is a bit ridiculous. I wasn’t affected in the slightest by this lockout, but I can imagine how aggravated others might have been.

    I like your analysis of what the NBA should do to make amends with the fans. Reduced ticket prices to upcoming games would of course be ideal in winning them back, so hopefully the association can pull something like that off.

    In any case, awesome first post, Alex! Welcome to the squad!

    • Alex Brodsky

      Yeah, I was one of those “others” who was aggravated hearing about it (and the difference the players denied and then accepted was around .2% more).

      Reduced ticket prices seem to be the one thing everybody can agree on through ALL sports, not just for basketball.

  8. Jill Tooley

    Awesome commentary, Alex, and WELCOME to the QLP Blog Squad! 😀

    As I’m sure you already know, I’m not a sports fan…nor do I claim to know ANYTHING about what’s going on with the NBA (the closest I get to watching sports is by watching The League!) However, I thought you made some excellent points here. I’ve always wondered how millionaire and billionaire sports figures (and any other wealthy celebs, for that matter) can live their lives by NEVER giving back to anyone or anything around them. It would make so much of a difference if they just gave a fraction of their income to a worthy cause…and I’m sure it would do wonders for their PR as an added bonus. I’d gain a lot of respect for players who used their money and power for the good of their fans!

    I’m glad that the lockout is settled and that sports fans can finally enjoy a sense of “normalcy.” Looking forward to your next post! 🙂

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2003 - 2016 Quality Logo Products, Inc., Registration No. TX7-524-201. All Rights Reserved.