It’s not what they certainly planned to be doing in the middle of October, but New York Knicks teammates Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony certainly kept themselves busy and in the headlines this past week, without much controversy and without ever stepping on a basketball court. The duo spent the last five days visiting Duane Reade Drugstores, Modell’s Sporting Goods, and Footlocker hyping and talking up new product endorsements, which obviously will gain greater value when the NBA lockout is settled. They competed for space in the tabloids and on TV as much as they would compete for loose balls in practice at this time of year, extolling the value of new age products like Sheets Energy Strips (for Stoudemire) and Power Grip hand products (for Anthony), while talking about the labor unrest, their offseason workouts, and even Stoudemire’s vision of a potential players league should the lockout go more than a year. They also had a common ground through their Nike endorsements, but showing off their new shoes for the media and the public
The work off the court this week for these NBA superstars showed an interesting mix of what they bring to the table for hoops and what hoops can do for them away from the court, and really emphasized the need for labor peace to grow both sides of the business quickly. Anthony and Stoudemire were well versed in their product endorsement stances this week, and while many may see the idea of a “Player’s League” as far fetched, the fact that every day one or the other, or sometimes both, were able to find headlines in the crowded sports fall landscape shows the brand value of being a hoops superstar in a major market. The great thing for their brand partners is the time that the athletes have been able to give to push their products at this time of year…time which obviously would be going to play on the court, not talk off it, if the lockout was settled. The fact that it is a baseball-less October in New York also gave way to additional off-field coverage for outlets looking to fill time and space with new content. The time also gave the stars a chance to connect with a larger segment of media who would not normally get access to the players at this time of year…non-credentialed bloggers, college media types and other digital publications found their way into press availability sessions this week in addition to the usual throng of beat reporters and TV cameras, which actually played in the favor of the brands and the athletes.
Now it is true that these athletes are superstars with a legacy in the marketplace of being able to draw interest. They are the exception more than the rule for endorsement partners, and it is unlikely that rank and file NBA players could pull off such media attention in most markets during a lockout situation. What will be interesting is to see how their brand value grows or diminishes over time if the lockout continues and fans and businesses either become apathetic or indifferent to a sport which they are not watching. It will also be interesting to watch and see how teams, with no stars to market, find ways to engage their fans as we near what would have been a great start to a solid finish of a campaign for the NBA; a season which, in addition to the regular and post season drama, will lead to an Olympic window in London next summer.
The week showed the boardroom power of NBA superstars once again, power which will hopefully be amplified with on court ability again when the labor strife settles and both sides can get back to the business of basketball both on and off the court. The business off the court will only grow long term when the business on the court starts again.