Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The fix is in?

Earlier today* AdAge ran this story on the findings of a survey on perceptions of the NBA, specifically whether the outcomes of some of its games—especially the important post-season games—are decided in advance. A whopping 41% of respondents said they believe “it’s either very likely or somewhat likely that the NBA alters the outcome of games.”

Beyond the sheer size of the number who believe these games are fixed, this news surprised me for two reasons:

First, the respondents aren’t a bunch of basketball curmudgeons who, like me, have a hard time watching even a moment of a regular season game. No, these people identify themselves as NBA fans. They’re moderate to heavy consumers of the sport. They cheer in victory and jeer in defeat. They buy jerseys. They clap thundersticks. They throw ice at Ron Artest.

Second—and more surprisingly—the survey was completed prior to the recent allegations from the crooked ex-referee, Tim Donaghy, that NBA executives and referees manipulated game results to boost ticket sales and TV ratings. In the market research world they call that a pre-test. Imagine how many people now believe the NBA is rigged, after Donaghy’s allegations became public.

Basically, a huge chunk of the core NBA audience just came out and said they believe professional basketball is about as real as professional wrestling. It doesn’t mean they won’t watch it (obviously—pro wrestling has a huge fan base), but it does mean the NBA is a long way from holding the lofty place in American culture that professional baseball and football do these days.

And it also signifies a major slide from the days of Magic and Bird, Wilt and Kareem, Dr. J and Chocolate Thunder.

Actually, thinking back to that Pistons/Pacers fracas, it kinda felt like pro wrestling, didn’t it?

* You** gotta love the timing of this story, what with the potential for the Celtics to win the NBA Championship tonight.

** Unless you’re David Stern, in which case, sucks to be you.

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