The NBA is making a bad business decision

There are a few things most people learn universally growing up and especially entering adulthood. One of those things is that there are topics of conversation that we should avoid, namely religion and politics. 

Thankfully we have the right to peacefully protest and to the freedom of speech. But people generally want to avoid upsetting Uncle Larry at the family reunion. After 10 beers, we decided to have a nice, calm conversation about President Trump going golfing. 15 minutes later, everyone is a political expert and could fix the U.S. economy and political division. Pasta salad is being thrown. Kids are crying. And it all started because a minute comment has now brought about divisive opinions.

Any working adult should know that your place of business is the last place for your opinions on divisive topics. In business, the goal is much different than trying to be “popular.” If you’re running for Homecoming King (or President), all you need is 1 more vote over 50 percent to beat the person you are running against. The goal is not to have the biggest gain, but instead that one that will get you over the hump. 

That is not how business works.

Any company wants to have the highest customer count possible. It wants sustainable capital gains. To be successful you shouldn’t be risking your fringe customers over social opinions. Sharing those opinions might not lose your core customer, but is it good business to push away those casual customers?

Less than a year ago, the NBA made a strong business decision. The NBA was facing big backlash from China. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took a stance to support Hong Kong and human rights in China. Morey’s initial tweet led to several Chinese sportswear brands suspending ties with the Rockets. The Chinese Basketball Association also canceled a preseason event involving the Rockets’ G-League affiliate. 

NBA commissioner Adam Silver moved swiftly to cure Chinese relations with a statement saying,

“It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues… It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences…This is about far more than growing our business.”

Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner

Although many criticized the NBA for completely separating themselves from the egregious human rights issues in China, it was a business and money-driven decision. Fast Forward a few months and Adam Silver, Lebron James, Greg Popovich and many notable NBA names look nothing but hypocritical with their new woke stance on human rights. It does not matter whether you are for, or against their current stance with Black Lives Matter. As a business, they have made a 180-degree change to their stand on human rights now versus their choice last October. 

Although this tweet is from a month ago, it displays priorities perfectly. 

So how has it affected their business? Has the decision to run for Homecoming King helped?

Personally, as a big NBA fan, I have continued to watch all the games in the bubble despite enjoying sports as an escape from the news and politics. However, I continue to hear people say the opposite. They’ve turned on a game and after a couple minutes of the BLM everywhere, the social justice messages plastered on jerseys and the pixelated digital fans, they immediately switch the channel.

 As the ratings come out, the latter seems to be more common. Ratings are down big percentage points across the board. According to the Sports Business Daily, ABC ratings are down a whopping 16 percent, TNT down 13 percent and ESPN down 10 percent.

LeBron James responded to a reporter last Wednesday, saying he doesn’t care about losing President Donald Trump’s viewership. I mean, I doubt Trump is watching much of the NBA anyway. So losing his viewership is not a big deal, but as a business are you OK with losing his supporters as well? You very well could be telling 10s of millions of people that you do not care if they watch the NBA. It is the definition of a poor business decision. For someone as recognizable and popular as Lebron James, it’s no big deal. However, players like Devin Booker, TJ Warren and other players who are trying to build a name for themselves and are playing great in the bubble, their future brand and contracts need more viewership and fans, not less. 

This may cost the NBA for years to come. If you tell your customers that how they vote determines if you want them as a customer, many of them will just say “ok, bye!” Ultimately, as a business you shouldn’t determine who can support your team or product based upon how they feel about an economic relief package. Choosing opinions unrelated to your business to determine your customers is, in fact, a failure in business.

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