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The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, possibly one of the best and biggest rivalries in the history of sports, are back again for their 12th time facing each other in the NBA finals. I could write a whole blog post about the history and significance of this historical and compelling match up, but why bother when there are books, articles and even a whole Wikipedia entry devoted to this rivalry? While the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are over, this classic match up never seems to fail.

The 2010 finals has epic written all over it: best rivalry in the history of sports, arguably the two greatest franchises in NBA history and a series featuring some of the best players in the league. If that doesn’t do it for you, there is the fact that it is the second time in three years that the two teams have faced each other in the finals,  Kobe and the Lakers are out for blood after losing to the Celtics in the 2008 finals, this Celtics team could prove to be one of the greatest in Celtics’ history (a very, very tough “club” to get into), Kobe could get his 5th championship (making that one short of Michael Jordan) and the fact that it could be Coach Phil Jackson’s last  game and 11th title (a record he already holds).

Could it get much better for David Stern?

The Lakers-Celtics finals is a gold mine for the NBA. Sure, a Phoenix Suns-Orlando Magic match up would be interesting to any basketball fan, or even a LA-Orlando series would be enticing. Yet the hype surrounding the Lakers and the Celtics pulls in even those who are not interested in the NBA, but who are interested in seeing history play out before their eyes and watching superstars battle it out on the court. Yeah, an Amare StoudemireDwight Howard match up would have been cool, but that has nothing on a Kobe Bryant-Paul Pierce & Pau Gasol-Keven Garnett matchup.

So what does this mean from the NBA’s perspective?

  • Sold out tickets-and expensive tickets.
  • High ratings-Three years ago, the television ratings for the finals reached an all-time low. The NBA needs this.
  • Crazy media coverage-Just Google it, I dare you. Or turn on your T.V. Or the radio. Better yet, look at Twitter.
  • High selling merchandise-According the NBAStore.com, the LA Lakers and Boston Celitics are already number one and number three on the top selling NBA teams.

These benefits are just from a short-term perspective. The long-term effects of this historical match up are also potentially huge, with the ripple effects extending far and beyond from just this series. It has the potential to get people hyped up about NBA basketball for a long time to come.  The only thing better would be a Kobe vs. Lebron match up, but there’s still some time left for that.

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Social media has changed the world as we know it. One world in particular that is being drastically effected is the sports world. And, just like the rest of us, the sports world is still trying to find its head amid this firestorm of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and everything else associated with Web 2.0. It also seems that the sports industry is more hesitant than others on accepting this new, strange tool called social media. However, social media provides a great opportunity if conducted correctly.

The sports industry is unique in that its driving audience is the fans.  Social media has presented an opportunity for leagues, teams, players and other sports organizations to connect to their fans on a whole other level.  For instance, providing up-to-date Tweets allows fans to have instant access to any relevant information. The Boston Celtics, who are often praised for their social media strategies, even provide exclusive locker room footage for their YouTube subscribers. Fans thrive upon inside access. This type of access, and also interaction, creates a valuable experience for the fans, which is essentially what sports are all about.

Social media also provides an opportunity for two-way communication, and the best sports social media pages are the ones that are interactive. This entails being the first to respond to questions directly from the fans, or even address criticism and complaints. Or this can be done by creating contests that online followers can participate in. Putting in this extra effort also shows they value their fans and supporters. Creating personal interactions via online conversations also creates the feeling that people are apart of something. This increases involvement, loyalty, support and enthusiasm, all of which are crucial in an industry relying on fan base.

And of course, there are the athletes who have their personal social media. Fans love access into an athlete’s personal life. I don’t know why, but knowing what Shaq ate for breakfast is so enthralling. Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has a famous online following, takes his social media to new extremes by broadcasting parts of his life on Ustream. When athletes create this “intimate” connection with their fans by allowing access into their personal lives, fans are able to put a face behind the celebrity. This also creates a loyal fan base and following, even from people who are not die hard sports fans.  You no longer know them as a jersey, a number, or face on the highlight reel, but as a person.

Like with any industry, social media has also brought a new array of problems.  While the positive aspect of social media is transparency, the negative aspect is also transparency. How much information shared is too much? The NFL battles this as it has a strict social media policy, which entails that no employee (including players) can use social media networks from 90 minutes before kick off until after post game traditional interviews.  The NBA has a similar policy, except the time starts at 45 minutes before a game. Why? Because they believe players must respect their obligations to the media, or rather the league’s obligations to the media. Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings got fined $7,500 for tweeting his excitement about beating the Portland Trail Blazers in a double overtime before conducting traditional interviews. Athletes and coaches are also constantly getting penalized for saying negative things about their organization or members of the officiating crew.

What the sports world seems most concerned about, like any other organization, is a loss of control. Yes, people may say bad things about your organization. And yes, players may say things that may not reflect so well on themselves or the organization they are apart of.  But what is important is adapting to this new realm.  Some of the sports organizations are, especially by creating reasonable social media guidelines to adhere to and providing social media training similar to media training.

Instead of shying away from social media, the sports world needs to take advantage of it. Social media provides new opportunities to increase fan base and establish a positive brand image, all of which is key for generating revenue in the sports industry. Besides, all these possible implications do is create a demand for great PR practitioners, and there are plenty of us out there ready to tackle these issues!

The new Arizona law regarding illegal immigration is causing quite a bit of controversy these days. And that controversy is making its way into the world of professional sports. During Game 2 of the NBA western conference semifinals, the Phoenix Suns wore their “Los Suns” jerseys to voice their opposition to the law, coordinating with a written statement against it, and were supported by the NBA Players Association for their efforts. Other teams and players have also spoken out against the law, which is being heavily criticized for promoting racial profiling.  This includes the MLB Players Association (Major League Baseball Players Association), where over half the teams hold spring training in Arizona and significant amount of their players are foreign born. They issued a statement saying:

The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

However, not everyone in the sports world is taking a side to the issue. Laker’s head coach Phil Jackson claimed in a recent interview that he chooses for him and his team to stay out of the debate saying, “I have respect for those who oppose the new Arizona immigration law, but I am wary of putting entire sports organizations in the middle of political controversies.”

Laker’s spokesperson, John Black, said the organization will stay away from political statements. “Our focus and goal at this time is on basketball, winning games, and hopefully winning another championship, which we feel the vast majority of our fans want us to focus on.”

So is that what sports is all about? Winning games and providing entertainment for their fans? (I personally do NOT agree with this, especially from a PR perspective). Or is it about speaking up for a group of people that also represent a good portion of their fans, players and employees? Is taking a stance being socially responsible or crossing the line?

This is where public relations comes into play and faces questions like these. Do you stand up and defend a portion of your community, like the Hispanic and Latino population? Or do you choose not to become politically involved, claiming neutrality? Either way, the decision will alienate a portion of their audience and brings up some tough PR decisions.

After watching the NFL draft last week, a few things popped into my head. Of course there was joy for the Oregon players that were drafted.  Then after watching the interviews of the top picks, I got to wondering what is the media training these guys recieve? It’s no secret that there is an extensive background process into every aspect of future player’s background (ex: Dolphin’s GM Jeff Ireland’s now infamous question to draft-pick Dez Bryant, “Is your mom a prostitute?” ).  Teams treat future players as business investments, and assessing their background in attempts to figure out how they will handle themselves in the future is very important to them.  Considering this and the emphasis on positive imaging, there must be some extensive media training to make sure these future NFL players look like future role models and poster boys for the league.

After a little research, I discovered Don Yaeger, media guru and former Sports Illustrated editor who is also the  mastermind behind media training boot camp for NFL players.  This years players included top picks Sam Bradford and Gerald McCoy, along with 26 other players.

His main message to they guys? “You are a brand.”  He compares the branding of players to any other brands, such as Starbucks or Mercedes (Terrell Owens= Toyota?). Speaking to the press is a business opportunity, he tells the guys, because through the media is how one primarily builds their “brand.”  This is beneficial to the player because a positive “brand,” or image, creates higher stock value…a.k.a more teams want this type of guy and more corporations want his face to represent their own brand, all which equals money in the bank.

One of the things Yaeger teaches is how to use words that players  want associated with their “brand.” After learning all this, I went back and watched Sam Bradford’s post-draft interviews to see the Sam Bradford “brand.”

The brand elements I get from this interview: Humble, family-oriented, a kid with dreams coming true. Seems like his media training worked, and someone a team might want to invest in aside for reasons other than his talent.

I think it is crucial for this intensive media training at the beginning of a players career  because it’s hard to redeem yourself with the media and fix a tarnished image. Oh and million-dollar endorsements don’t seem too bad either.

What do you think of the idea of “branding” young NFL players?

“To challenge National Football League players to be lifelong learners while pursuing continuous improvement in family relations, social interactions, personal growth and career development during and beyond their careers as NFL players.”

Those are words that you may not hear very often.  Yet that is the NFL‘s player development mission statement. And as a PR person, we know how crucial it is for an organization to establish and follow its mission statement.  With that being said, let’s discuss the  Ben Roethlisberger situation.

It seems that everyone and their moms have something to say about the NFL’s ordeal regarding Ben Roethlisberger, the two-time Superbowl champ and pro-bowl select.  In case you have been hiding in a cave, Big Ben was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old girl, his second accusation in two years. Charges were not filed, but a 500 page police report had detailed witness accounts describing reckless behavior, heavy drinking and an egotistical NFL star bar-hopping in a small, college town in Georgia.  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did suspend Roethlisberger for 4-6 games and had quite the  statement along with it. (For more details of the legal decisions regarding the case and suspension, read this interesting article by ESPN writer and legal analyst Lester Munson).

Now everyone has their opinions on the suspension and the situation in general.  But as a PR person, I am interested in looking at it from the NFL’s perspective as a multibillion-dollar organization, where issues regarding the images of its players are constantly in the news.  Sure, this recent scandal is one of many.  Yet this recent decision shows how the NFL values its reputation, especially taking into account the view of the fans (aka consumers) and the players (aka employees).

While many people are looking at the NFL’s personal conduct policy in regards to this issue, I believe looking at the mission statement is equally important.  Remember, a mission statement defines an organization’s overall purpose and essentially, its essence.  If the NFL had not acted in punishing Roethlisberger, it would be going against their mission statement, a huge PR misstep.  The punishment shows how the NFL  is “challenging (Roethlisberger) to be a life long learner,” because hopefully he will learn from his actions (I’m sure this will be a lesson he will never forget).  This will also help make improvements in his “social growth” but most importantly, “his personal growth.”

And as much as I hate to say it, punishing one of their biggest and most recognizable stars is definitely a way to make a statement.  You get the glory, but you must take the fall. Punishing him not only forces him to take responsibility for his actions, but sets an example to other players in the league.  In this way the NFL also makes another statement–that it is a credible organization who not only values its publics and reputation, but also knows its purpose.