Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stern Fixes a Faux pa. Thanks Commish.

Credit to the Commissioner for Fixing the Ball.

Stern admits introduction of new ball was mishandled
-with Permission from the Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Commissioner David Stern acknowledged Tuesday that the NBA should have sought more input from players before introducing its new game ball.

"It's an improvement in many ways," Stern told the New York Times in a story posted on its Web site Tuesday. "But if our players are unhappy with it, we have to analyze to the nth degree the cause of their unhappiness."

Stern said he will address the players' criticisms with Spalding, the ball manufacturer, but some are ready to get rid of it.

"I don't think anybody would complain if they take it away, I'll tell you that," Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. "Hopefully, we'll get back to the other balls."

Heat teammate Antoine Walker said Stern needs to take action.

"Saying and admitting that you're wrong is not good enough," Walker said. "Right now we just need to get back to the old ball. That's what guys are comfortable with and are used to playing with, and what we prefer."

Players have complained about the ball, changed from leather to a microfiber composite, since training camp began. They argue the ball bounces differently than the old one, both off the floor and the rim. The new synthetic material is more sticky when it's dry, but players say it's more slippery when wet -- which the league and Spalding deny.

"Everything is on the table," Stern told the paper. "I'm not pleased, but I'm realistic. We've got to do the right thing here. And, of course, the right thing is to listen to our players. Whether it's a day late or not, we're dealing with this."

The lack of player input about the new ball prompted one of the two unfair labor practice charges the union filed with the National Labor Relations Board late last week.

"I think it's never too late from a league point of view," Seattle guard Ray Allen said. "From a player point of view, at least we know it's not falling on deaf ears. At least it's trying to be handled and worked with."

Some of the league's biggest stars, from Shaquille O'Neal to LeBron James, have been among the most critical of the ball.

"You worry about that ball, and it kind of keeps you from doing what you have to do with it," Suns guard Raja Bell said. "I let that go. But I do think they should have probably asked guys. If you aren't going to ask the whole league, at least ask your superstars, the guys who make you the money."

Stern said he understands why the players feel as they do.

"I won't make a spirited defense with respect to the ball," Stern told the Times. "In hindsight, we could have done a better job.

"With respect to the ball, I take responsibility for that."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Change It.

Players Union Files 2 Suits Against NBA

The players' association filed two unfair labor practice charges Friday against the NBA over issues with the new ball and the league's crackdown on player complaints.

The charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

"I think that's right within the NBA's wheelhouse," Dallas owner Mark Cuban said. "They say the NBA stands for `Nothing But Attorneys,' so we're going to be great at dealing with those issues."

A number of players publicly have complained about changing the ball from leather to a microfiber composite. Although players are adjusting to the new ball, they're having a much harder time with the crackdown on reactions after the whistle, often referred to as a "zero-tolerance policy."

NBA commissioner David Stern enacted the policy, saying players were reacting too strongly after calls, and it has led to an increase in technical fouls called this season.

"It takes away from your natural reaction, the things that make basketball what it is," said Jerry Stackhouse, the Mavericks' player representative. "You think Bill Bradley never hit the support after he was called for a foul? That's the model citizen of all former NBA players. It's just a natural thing to do."

With players fined for each technical they receive, union director Billy Hunter told The Associated Press last month that legal action could be the next step if Stern didn't tell the referees to "back off."

There have been 175 unsportsmanlike technicals called through 225 games this season. There were 120 through the same number of games last season, though the number is on par with the amount from two years ago.

"Our obligation to represent our membership dictates the filing of these actions," Hunter said in a statement. "There is virtual unanimity amongst the players about their concerns and intense dislike for the new synthetic ball and the 'zero tolerance' policy.

"After extensive consultation with our membership and player leadership we determined that this was the appropriate course of action."

Some players still seem most upset about the first change to the game ball in more than 35 years.

"Honestly, it gets to a point where, you can change the way our shorts are, you know, you can change if our wristbands are too high, you can change the dress code," LeBron James said. "That's something that's controllable. But when it gets to the point where you change the basketball which, this is what we use every single day. Every single day, every single minute, 82 games. Plus preseason, plus playoffs. It just kind of didn't make sense.

"The only thing that we love the most is the basketball. That's your comfort. I mean, without your basketball, it doesn't work. That was my biggest problem, was, why would you change something that means so much to us? It didn't make sense to me at all."

Added Seattle's Ray Allen, one of the NBA's best shooters: "Every guy I've talked to, to a man, is in disagreement about the ball. The bottom line is we're out there playing and the ball is not going in like we know we're capable of putting it in, or like we've done in the past."

NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said the league was "reviewing what they have filed."

The players feel they were entitled to have input on both changes before they were put into play. In its release, the union said the "zero-tolerance policy" was implemented without any consultation or advanced notice as required "according to the terms of the National Labor Relations Act and the 2005 NBA/NBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement."

"You never want to feel that the NBA's a dictatorship," Wizards veteran Antonio Daniels said.

The section of the CBA regarding On-Court Conduct, states, in part:

"Prior to the date on which any new rule promulgated by the NBA becomes effective, the NBA shall provide notice of such new rule to the Players Association and consult with the Players Association with respect thereto."

The crackdown isn't a new rule, however, but rather a point of emphasis. Under Stern's directive, players are fined $1,000 for each of their first five technicals. The fine increases by $500 for each five after that, capped by a $2,500 penalty for each one starting with the 16th. A one-game suspension also comes at that point and for every other technical thereafter.

"To give a technical foul, it's giving money back," Stackhouse said. "If it's a technical foul, all right, penalize the team. But don't take guys' money for natural reactions toward heat of the moment things. We're not robots. They would say they don't want us to become robots, but that's what it's becoming.

"Everything doesn't have to be we're going to show you by taking your money away. A thousand dollars is a thousand dollars, no matter whether you are making $9 million or $30,000."

Players also argue they weren't involved in the decision to use a new ball. The league unveiled it in June and sent one to its teams and all players before the start of training camp. It also was used in the All-Star game and during summer league play.

Superstars such as Shaquille O'Neal and James are among those who have blasted it, and many others have complained that it feels and performs far differently than the old leather ball, criticizing the way it bounces off the floor and the rim.

"I was surprised when they announced that they were changing the ball," Sacramento's Shareef Abdur-Rahim. "That shouldn't happen without some input from the players. I've never cared for the new ball, and I'm a big guy. When ballhandlers like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd are complaining about it, that says a lot."


Why change the NBA basketball?

You tell me? I would love to hear your thoughts. I really am stumped so I'd like to open it up to the group and hear you ideas and comments.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Why Do Teams Change Their Identity?

I received a terrific e-mail from Pete B. in Toronto who posed the question basically asking why teams change their identity? Okay, great question Pete...

Hi Pete-

PB- I just wanted to say thanks for your columns on sports branding as I find them fascinating and inspirational.

SBS- Thanks for reaching out to us. I greatly appreciate your kind words and interest in our work. We really love this business (usually) and Gameplan Creative provides us a chance to develop identities for clients that help build their brand awareness and business.

PB- As a designer for a sports marketing company up here in Toronto, I’m always trying to seek out new avenues that provoke thought in designing for the big brands (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR).

SBS- Yes, Pete, it’s interesting that a high profile industry like sports marketing and branding has pretty limited resources as it relates to books, materials and case studies on how marketing challenges are turned into strategic solutions. Tells you that a book on the subject might be a very valuable resource right?

PB- What is it that you look for when trying to create and/or design a sense of history of a team brand (ie. The legends of the Chicago Bears, the New York Yankees alumni, Boston Celtics legends)?

SBS- You’ve helped to answer your own question a bit on this one. Yes, digging into archives, fans/league/team web sites and sports branding blogs such as SSUR.org (run by Donovan Moore, the team identity and pantone savant in the industry is an ideal place to begin) or on boards like the Sports Branding Society is a great jump in point.


PB- Does your colour palette change at all from the teams colours or do you add certain colours to reflect history?

SBS- This can be such a long answer and watch how nebulous I can be but...it depends...great answer huh? Really, it does depend.

No, you would not be wise nor being fair to the brand to change the colors of say the Bears (navy blue and orange) , the Yankees (navy blue and grey) or the Celtics (green and now a touch of black). Let me give you some scenarios on how teams go about changing their identities:

-1. New Ownership: (most common/See Anaheim Ducks and Anaheim Angels).
New ownership wants to signal a change at the top. Teams will develop new logos and uniforms and often colors. Does is break a brand identity and tribal chain link. Absolutely and by design.

-2. New Building: (See Phoenix Suns // America West Arena, 1992-93).
There’s an article on the archives on the Sports Branding Society about the Suns. Great way and reason to freshen things up. This is a great case study of moving a team from the 70’s to the new millennium in a change. One of the best identities in my opinion, ever.

-3. Break away from losing tradition: (New Jersey Nets 1995-96) Great change and very successful. New look Nets earned major kudos and the team began winning. Was it the new identity. Of course not. Did it hurt. Absolutely not. Cleveland Cavaliers is a case where the owner who wanted to sell the team, Gordon Gund, wanted a better looking identity before he sold. Like fixing up a house before putting it on sale and thus the wine and gold was re-established...and then along came James.

4. -Make more merchandise money: (Urban legend).
Teams share licensing revenues so if the Yankees changed everything, there would sure to be a spike in the sales of their new products, but since all 30 MLB teams licensing revenues, the Yankees wouldn’t see a dime more.

5. -Tweak the identity: (Celtics ideal case study).

Add colors to the primary, add a secondary logo and add alternate jersey:

Back to the Celtics. In the mid-ninties the team change hands but the tradition of green and the leprechaun was too strong to alter. So, the team tweaked the primary logo, added a Celtics shamrock (in a circle) secondary, and added a touch of black into an alternate uni:

Celtics original logo:

Was changed to this:

And our NBA Creative Services group added this as a secondary logo:

In 2005, the Celtics introduced an alternate jersey (hmmm? Well, we all have our own opinions)

I hope I’m being clear enough and yet not too imposing.

Again, thanks for your interest and I really appreciate your questions. Feel free to stay in touch.

Thanks Pete-