Play ball?
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Play ball?

Just as the French are voraciously following the DSK drama, American sports fans are watching with bated breath the recent news of the NBA lockout.

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Euro RSCG PR's Marian Salzman (@mariansalzman) is your North America ThinkTank commentator. She will be responding to events in the region on a weekly basis, offering a provocative view of the PR issues at stake. You can reach Marian at [email protected]

Just as the French are voraciously following the DSK drama, American sports fans are watching with bated breath the recent news of the NBA lockout. The news alone is certainly juicy (perhaps not as juicy as a sex scandal, but it seems our dance card for that particular category is already full), but with the NFL lockout coinciding with this one? Things sure are getting interesting.

As a PR person, I can’t help but wonder how this will all pan out. On SB Nation, Joel Thorman said this of the NFL’s PR battle: “Each side has been attacked publicly—and rightfully so, because it takes two to tango—but polls have suggested more people are blaming the players. Traditionally, fans tend to side with owners in labor talks…. You generally don’t root for specific players—you root for your team.” We all know there’s no “me” in team, so who will emerge from this lockout victorious? It’s certainly about more than arbitration; it’s about whose cause the public will most likely support, athletic prowess or not.

Fighting it out for biggest bad guy—players versus owners—is going to be a battle larger than the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals. Fellow PR pro Ronn Torossian had a great quote: “Nobody in the public is receptive to a fight between millionaires and billionaires.” There’s great truth in that, especially when anxieties over our economy are still running high. In a post-Madoff world, nobody favors greed anymore, regardless of what side you’re on. I’m imagining that both sides will need to do some serious damage control when trying to send attention to their respective cause and effects.

And how will big brands negotiate these crises? I find it interesting, and slightly disheartening, that Nike re-signed Michael Vick to its stable of celebrity spokesfolk. Perhaps huge outfits like Nike are in the forgiving mood, but what sport will they turn to if there is no football or basketball? The smart money is on tennis. It’s a global phenomenon (last year’s Wimbledon audience was 6.8 million in the U.K. alone), and lots of young, sexy tennis players would be great representations of brands. So perhaps giving an endorsement deal to Wimbie winner Novak Djokovic has more bang for the buck?

Speaking of bucks…in this battle of rich and richer, I wonder if the wrong war is being fought. If eyes are to be on the prize, both sides should be duking it out for the loyalty and passion of sports fans, who will surely be more than miffed if there are no NBA Finals or Super Bowl this year (not to mention no advertisers). If the NBA and NFL can’t resolve their parties’ differences, the most important ball in play will be the tolerance of the public to support their favorite games. Hopefully, basketball and football will not be locked out of the American sports psyche—or Madison Avenue. Tennis, anyone?

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