Twitter and the NBA: Not Quite a Slam Dunk

4 Dec

Businesses often find themselves in situations where they must fight for corporate issues with public relations hanging in the balance.  Twitter wreaked havoc on the negotiation process between the NBA, and its Players Association, the NBPA.  The social media platform gave individual players independent voices, which often differed from the views expressed by their Players Association.  The NBA and NBPA fought each other tough at the negotiation table, and then went to Twitter during off-hours to fight for fan support.  Twitter linked the points of negotiation to public image in a way never documented before.

Costly Errors

Early in September, NBPA Vice President Roger Mason intended to send a private message to a friend regarding how long he thought the lockout would last.  Instead of sending the message to his friend, Mason accidentally tweeted the colloquial message to all of his followers, leading to rampant speculation about what the message meant.  Due to the ambiguous and unprofessional language, “How u” became a running joke and column sign-off amongst basketball journalists, perpetually thrusting the Vice President’s error into the spotlight.  Mason was highly criticized, and the public began questioning his effectiveness as a corporate leader because of his slip-up.

Feeling the Heat

Mickey Arison, owner of the Miami Heat, chose to voice his opinions on Twitter.  When one fan told him he was “ruining the best game in the world” and a “greedy (expletive) pig,” Arison responded with “You are barking at the wrong owner.”  The NBA fined Arison $500,000 for portraying a negative public image of league owners.  Warranted or not, this fine demonstrated the importance of social media communication and how important it was to the league to win the battle of public relations.

The Twitterview

Soon after the NBA fined Arison, the Association announced plans for a strategic communication event.  Enter the “Twitterview,” which allowed fans, players, and journalists to ask the NBA questions about the latest labor proposal via Twitter.  The NBA then responded to these queries in an effort to clear miscommunication and engage its fans.  The Twitterview did not turn out effective at all.  The NBA’s selection of questions to answer offered minimal insight into negotiations and left a cloudy view on issues that this event was supposed to clear up.

The NBA labor negotiations are a clear-cut example of how new instant mass media such as Twitter can completely derail an organization’s focus.  Instead of focusing entirely on the negotiations, the NBA and NBPA made concerted efforts to win the support of fans.  Fans were upset because of how long the negotiations took, and both organizations seemed to lose sight of this.  If the NBA and NBPA had fully committed to negotiating instead of fighting a two-front war, the negotiations would have been settled long ago and minimized customer outrage.

Both the NBA and NBPA (including players themselves) took to Twitter to voice opinions, respond to criticism, answer questions, pose questions of their own, and bash the other side in an unprecedented public manner.  The public criticisms voiced on Twitter made the NBA and NBPA more hostile towards one another, driving each side farther away from compromise.  While the public could now follow and interact with daily updates like never before, basketball was farther out of reach.  As a fan, I would give up following these negotiations on Twitter if it meant I could follow the games on the court

How u.

by Jason Feldman



2 Responses to “Twitter and the NBA: Not Quite a Slam Dunk”

  1. Sam Knopf December 5, 2011 at 12:32 am #

    I think you are absolutely right in saying twitter hurt the NBA during the lock out. Legal battles are not the right place for twitter. However, this does not mean twitter is not good for the NBA. According to Sports Illustrated and the NBA has a greater Twitter audience than all brand accounts besides Whole Foods and Zappos. Once the season starts up again, and the players go back to playing on the court instead of in a court room, Twitter will be a huge part of reviving the NBA. Basketball allows fans to get closer to the athletes than any other sport. The individuals in the NBA make it stand out and fans want to follow these individuals even when the game ends. With no legal battles getting in the way, NBA and Twitter will be back to entertaining fans, which is what they should have been doing all along.

    • Jason Feldman December 5, 2011 at 6:59 am #

      I agree with you that Twitter will be essential for the NBA in the time to come, I was addressing how Twitter specifically hurt the NBA during the lockout.

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