Can something as ephemeral as cultural footprint make something as concrete as a sports franchise more valuable?
The NBA season just started with the majority of its franchises struggling in this economic climate. Television ad revenue is down, season ticket sales have cratered, and the number of marquee teams that can reliably sell out arenas has gotten smaller. So how should NBA teams maximize their dwindling revenue sources?
They should start treating bloggers like they treat players.
By which I mean, when a team identifies a player that they think will help them win, they try to acquire that player. In the same way that all players aren’t created equal, bloggers aren’t either.
Let’s go to a case study.
In the 2004-2005 NBA season Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas had a great season. He was among the league scoring leaders and the leader of an up-and-coming team. His jersey, however, was not among the league’s top 25 sellers. He was a good player, but not quite a star.
In the 2005-2006 season, however, his jersey did make the top 25. And the year after, it was in the top 10. Not only that, but Arenas had become the kind of player who put butts in seats and brought viewers to the television. One who increased a team’s connection to its surrounding community. His game hadn’t changed, so what had?
He got a nickname. More than that, he became a character. “Agent Zero.” (After his jersey number.) And that happened thanks to a very popular, Wizards-centric, blogger. Besides just coming up with the “Agent Zero” name, the blog The Wizznutzz, unaffiliated with the team, also popularized the fact that Arenas had started to shout “hibachi!” each time he made a shot, and that he’d set up a giant tent inside his house to simulate high-altitude conditions. Their coverage of him went a long way from turning him from a player into a happening.
Even with his entertaining idiosyncrasies, Arenas was a high scoring guard who’d never won anything on a team that had more or less been moribund for years. His becoming one of the most popular players in a league with quite a few compelling characters was no sure thing and, without the blog’s help, may not have happened.
Think about what that means. NBA teams make money from every ticket and jersey sold, of course, but their value is also tied to the community they create. When the owners of the team think about selling, how much is having a player who’s become a local hero worth?
If the cultural capital generated by a great blogger moves the needle even 1%, the team will have realized millions of dollars in new value.
And what about when it’s time for a referendum on a new arena? What would a 2% swing in the vote because residents feel a real and deep connection to the team be worth? (Putting aside the issue of public money going for sports-related projects.)
If teams are trying to create value wherever they can, hiring a great blogger is a whole lot easier than putting together a winning team.