Relationship Crisis

26 07 2007


Being a huge NBA enthusiast, I couldn’t help but take deep interest in the developing story around the NBA referee controversy. A week ago, news broke that Tim Donaghy fixed point margins and NBA game outcomes to pay off gambling debts. And since then, it has quickly become one of the most credibility-crushing events that the NBA has ever seen. NBA referees have already been under incredible scrutiny about shady calls and now the credibility of the entire NBA is in question.

I for one have always been skeptical about “star” calls and referee bias, but this turn of events has made me wonder even more. But questions about referee calls will probably never be resolved, even after the NBA makes it out of this mess.

What interests me most is what this means for the relationship between the NBA and its fans. Chris Sheridan of ESPN  discussed this issue, asking the question: What can the NBA do to repair the relationship with its shrinking fan base? According to Sheridan, the NBA should “worry about restoring its integrity with the fans who have stuck around…because the hardcore fans are the lifeblood of any professional sports league.”

In essence, Sheridan’s “mandate” is a question of public relations…that question being: What can the organization do to repair a relationship with its strongest supporters, once those supporters’ trust is betrayed?

Research from scholars like John Ledingham, Stephen Bruning, James Grunig, and others identifies several variables that determine the strength of a relationship between an organization and its public. Most of them fall under 4 categories: Trust, Satisfaction, Commitment, and Control Mutuality (or the level of control publics have within the organization).

The issue the NBA faces would appear to be an issue of trust, but that would be a hasty conclusion. Sure, fans’ trust has been betrayed, but launching a “trust” campaign–which the NBA will ultimately do–might not be the most effective strategy. No matter how strong a variable trust seems to be, research has shown that control mutuality and satisfaction are the strongest…and since it can be argued that satisfaction is a composite of the 3 variables, control mutuality rises to the top here.

For years, fans have wanted a stronger voice in the decisions of their favorite sports, not the least of which is the NBA. Up until now, the only option has been to yell at the TV at a bad call, curse team management, or express their dismay while attending games. Basically, the fan has no voice in the NBA, outside of selecting the players for the All-Star game.

Maybe it’s time the Commish hands over some of the control to the fans–his most important public. This is more than just an issue of improved transparence in NBA officiating, it’s recognizing the fan in NBA issues like this. Obviously, rule by the masses is not what I’m preaching here, but the Commish has to figure out a way to amplify the voice of the fan in league decisions and issues. Trust and commitment will follow, leading to satisfaction and a better NBA will emerge from this controversy.


Majority or Minority

19 07 2007

You might find this blog post a slight departure from my usual rants about communication, public relations, marketing, and anything else business-focused. I thought I’d take a time out because of an interesting article I read about a small movement in Texas to uphold traditional values.

According to a story in the New York Times, a small group trying to teach abstinence programs in school is facing threats to its future. Virginity Rules teaches abstinence in public schools (I’ve included an image from advertisement below), an idea that up until the end of the last century, was an accepted value. And yet, it faces certain “death” in the public school system in areas where it has been instigated.

Virginity Rules Faces Uncertain Future

The problem: A comprehensive study has shown that it is not delaying the “sexual debut” of our youth. In other words, teenagers aren’t listening. Despite efforts to slow down the sexual introduction and activity, the programs which feature media like the picture above coupled with quotes like “No is where I stand until I have a wedding band,” simply aren’t working.

Perhaps the real question isn’t whether the program is working, it’s who’s speaking louder? It’s no revelation that media today is a far cry from the standards of only 50 years ago. But do we really know the ramifications of such a liberal approach to media? I’ve always thought that preaching “safe sex” was simply a shadow of failure to uphold the values of marital and pre-marital fidelity.  

But, this story raises one slightly larger question: Does the majority always follow in line with what’s best for society?  The Founders of this country believed so. And it seems to be the basis of democracy, pockets of dissent will always exist, but the majority will uphold the best values. But in this situation, I disagree. In putting faith in studies that show the majority is not listening to abstinence programs, we’re merely giving in to second-rate morals, and letting a skewed morality dictate the demise of our society. Safe sex education is merely the lesser of two evils (the other being “free sex” education).

And, I know that I may be in the minority when I say this, but I don’t think that “comprehensive studies” that tell us that abstinence education isn’t working, can dictate the moral values of our country. Often, it is the minority that has it right.

Forget “death” and “taxes”

6 07 2007

Is anything else more inevitable? In a recent article from the Washington Post, it’s actually voting and spending…or at least, it’s those two behaviors that reveal personal preference and intention. The premise seems logical: if you believe in something, you’ll either vote for it or spend money on it. But I wonder if it’s that black and white.

The article discusses “microtargeting” and its recent use to win elections (apparently it won the 04 Election for Bush, and is now being used for Mitt Romney’s campaign). According to the story, microtargeting uses matches purchase behavior with voting behavior to “carve up the country into smaller and smaller clusters of like-minded consumers, and turn those trends into political strategy.”

The premise: voters in the same party are often driven by different, even contradictory,  issues, so divying up the nation into like-minded groups will facilitate efficiently targeted messaging. Basically, if you can define a group, structuring the right message is easy.

While this seems fairly natural (to do research to find out what your public values), what intrigues me is how fine a point this political strategist adivises putting on segmenting “consumers”. This isn’t just ethnicity, gender, household income stuff…we’re talking about matching people’s voting and purchasing behavior to household level specific perspectives. It’s a level of detail that I think represents the increasing power of the consumer. It’s natural that political campaigners want to get as many votes as possible, but my question is: would seeking this level of detail have been a valid strategy before the Internet Age (Read: before the public was given unquestioned access to media)? I don’t think so.  The trend (and the point I’m trying to make here) shows that with more voice in the media, distinguishing of consumer differences trumps the traditional strategy of finding commonalities and lumping as many people into one singular thinking, homogenous group as possible.

My question: how finite will politicos (and companies) go? Will we see classifications like “single, white male” give way to “single white male who still lives at home, fears commitment, but uses his work as a scape goat for his failure in steady relationships”?

Toilet Culture?

6 07 2007

In my inaugural post I talked about Scott Tissue’s success in creating community from the can…but this little news tidbit takes the toilet community to a WHOLE new level. China has just opened a public restroom with 1,000 toilets. That’s a lot of flushing…I wonder if we can get Mike Ditka give China a half-time rally about flushing responsibly.