We have all seen the stories of the mass defections of stars to Europe, China, Turkey, Mars…wherever the hoops rumors and dollars real and imagined may lead the NBA cognoscenti should the lockout take hold. Visions of Dwight Howard in Italy sampling pasta, Deron Williams chasing opponents around the minarets of Istanbul and Kobe Bryant being adored by billions in China are dancing in basketball fans heads, real or imagined. However the economic issues facing professional clubs around the world remain very real, and if the lockout does take hold, many players under contract may find the offerings abroad not as plentiful as what is being bandied about.
An NBA lockout would be as difficult on all the ancillary businesses…arenas which now would have to fill in excess of 40 dates with large scale events for example…as well as on the psyche of fans who are weary of labor talk and want more on court trash talk. So who could benefit from the lockout? One entity could be the D-League. Now while players under contract cannot play for D-league teams, the developmental system will continue on schedule, with a host of players who are not bound to contracts and have the time and energy to showcase their talents. Small markets around the league have started to prosper and the league has become a solid testing ground for the NBA, both on the court and in marketing objectives for the future. Many teams have brought affiliations in house, using the team as another way to expand fan outreach to smaller markets, or in the case of the LA Lakers, to get more use out of their practice facility. So with no other pro basketball, could the D-League move up in stature, social media and branding opportunities? Maybe so. There is no CBA or UFL or CFL to supplement a professional hoops fans fancy in the United States. Yes there is more than enough college hoops, but the NBA fan is not always an NCAA fan, and the level of play, even in the cash-limited and cost controlled D-League, is getting stronger every year. The league won’t move into a replacement player mode like the NFL of the past, trying to put D-League teams in NBA arenas, but some of the interest in NBA teams could flow to D-league eyes. It’s not even close to an alternative for NBA play, but it is an opportunity for intuitive and unique marketing, and a window for some who have been out of the limelight to shine maybe a bit brighter, and create a following that will help should they move up to the NBA when play returns.
The best plan is for labor piece and the D-League keep its steady growth. However should the worst case pop up and pro hoops fall silent, the NBA’s developmental players and coaches could be in position for some solid brand noise.