The NBA will launch its abbreviated 2011-12 season on Christmas Day with a gift of five games for fans to unwrap.
But with less than a month before the season’s tipoff, the question remains whether disgruntled fans dismayed over the 149-day lockout will embrace the return of the league with open arms. ESPN and TNT are both coming off one of their highest-rated seasons of NBA coverage, but early reports show that fans are not necessarily clamoring to watch Melo, Kobe and LeBron on their big screen television sets.
Some observers believe fans will eventually tune in once the games begin. In the meantime, the league and its media partners will do everything in their power to make sure you know that the NBA is back through what will undoubtedly be a huge, multi-media marketing push.
The NBA.com website has already returned to its pages images of NBA players like Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki that were pulled due to the lockout, while digital cable network NBA TV will most likely cut back on airing vintage Larry Bird and Magic Johnson games to make room for more recent NBA fare, like replays of 2011 NBA Finals telecasts.
That’s on top of the league’s Christmas day lineup which will showcase virtually all of the NBA’s biggest stars.
Social media will also play a critical part in the helping the league re-build relations with fans, according to New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson. Even before the lockout ended, Johnson — speaking at a Nov. 16 NAMIC New York Chapter event, Sports Marketing: Navigating the New Reality of Sports Media — said he was confident the league and its players would be able to effectively communicate its message through social media outlets, which offers direct and virtual 24-hour access to fans of the sport.
“Back [during the 1998 NBA lockout] it took us a long time to recover with the fans, but using social media as a tool can help us get back real quick,” Johnson said. “I’m hopeful that the brand that we have is so strong that … once we re-connect again we could take off from a higher level than we did the last time we were in this situation.”
Only time will tell whether fans will indeed make a fast break back to their TV sets to catch NBA action.