By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
February 15, 2013
Throughout his playing career, Michael Jordan always had impeccable timing, whether he was hitting a game-winning jumper or wowing the crowd with a perfectly executed slam dunk. But even in MJ’s heyday, who would have ever peered into the future to see that he would celebrate his 50th birthday on the same day of the NBA’s annual All-Star Game?
Nothing could be more fitting for a guy that, according to Forbes, still earns an estimated $80 million a year from endorsement deals with the likes of Hanes, Gatorade, and Nike, and whose signature Jordan Brand sneakers still outsell the shoe of LeBron James, the current league leader, by a margin of six to one.
With or without Jordan, the NBA is doing just fine. The American sports league with the biggest international footprint is also on the cutting edge when it comes to technology, both in terms of enhancing game day operations and the fan experience and also in being an early adapter with its digital products and social media platforms.
Further, with a fan (and owner) base that includes Jay-Z and Beyonce, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Justin Bieber, and “lifers” like Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee, the NBA is easily the most celebrity-centric of sports, which earns it lots of free exposure in lifestyle and entertainment media and turns its annual All-Star Game into the biggest velvet-rope happening in sports.
This year’s All-Star weekend in Houston will reportedly feature at least 40 high-profile parties, including Jay-Z’s D’Usse Cognac All-Star Celebrity Bash (tickets $100-$100,000); Combs’ and the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony’s Kings of New York event; and singer Alicia Keys and the Knicks’ Chris Smith and J.R. Smith’s Lifestyles of the Rick & Famous All Star Party. And then there’s Jordan’s birthday bash—the former Chicago Bulls legend is celebrating at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, whose rental fee alone is a reported $100,000 donation.
But VIP parties are only one part of the NBA All-Star weekend’s economic impact on Houston in and around the Toyota Center. Last year’s event in Orlando created a total economic impact of about $95 million, according to a study by that city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau; Houston organizers are hoping to best that sum.
The NBA itself is also facing some key business issues as it heads into its midseason All Star break. This year, the pending sale and relocation of the Sacramento Kings, and the future of embattled NBA Players Association head Billy Hunter are the main issues at hand.
Offered by a potential ownership group that wants to move the franchise to Seattle, a deal has been presented that values the Kings at a record $525 million. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, however, believes he can find local buyers to make a competitive bid and keep the team in Northern California.
Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza has gained momentum as the potential site of a new Kings arena. The location is a favorite of Ron Burkle, considered the best candidate to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento. While Sacramento remains far behind Seattle in the race for the Kings, Burkle’s involvement is intriguing because he’s considering buying AEG and he previously stepped in to save another troubled sports franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hunter, meanwhile, is battling for his NBA life. The NPBA placed him on indefinite suspension, effectively stripping him of all duties, since an internal investigation found him guilty of nepotism and failing to comply with union bylaws. Players plan to meet Saturday to discuss Hunter’s future, and possibly, hold a vote to determine whether or not he should keep his job.
Broadcast in the U.S. by TNT, the NBA’s 2013 All-Star events, and the business issues on their sidelines, will have unprecedented global media coverage, reaching fans live in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages on their TVs, computers, and mobile devices, according to the league.
It’s fitting that the NBA All-Star weekend is tipped off by the league’s annual Technology Summit, as the convergence of TV, digital, and social media will make this the most interactive NBA All-Star event ever. More than 386 million fans globally will follow the NBA on social media, and for the first time the world feed broadcasts will feature real-time tweets from celebrities, NBA players, and viewers at #NBAAllStar.
NBA League Pass International will provide subscribers access to live streams of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (including the popular Sprite Slam Dunk competition), and the 62nd NBA All-Star Game, while a free new app, “The Ultimate Guide to All-Star,” will provide fans globally with live scores, video, news, predictive gaming, and voting for the Kia NBA All-Star MVP award.
On the social media side, a majority of sports executives responding to a recent Turnkey Sports Poll believe the NBA has benefitted the most of any pro sports league from using social media to generate publicity for itself and its athletes. 32% of respondents put the NBA on top, followed by MLB and the NFL at 16% each.
In the NBA, Tweet = sweet.