The NBA + Fan All-Star Voting = A Recipe for Disaster

Romeo    February 8, 2016


While engaging your audience is usually not a bad thing, giving up total control for one of your most prestigious annual events can be. Which is why the NBA is rethinking the process for how All-Star votes are cast.

On Sunday February 14th, the city of Toronto will host it’s first ever NBA All-Star Game, which just happens to be a first for the country of Canada as well. The All-Star Game is an annual event that unofficially marks the halfway point in the NBA season, and is a chance for the league (NBA) to showcase its best and brightest stars over a 3 day / night event commencing with the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on Friday the 12th, and finishing with the NBA All-Star Game the night of the 14th.

Although the competition itself, like most other All-Star themed events (NFL Pro Bowl, NHL All-Star Game, MLB All-Star Game), is an exhibition, the NBA All-Star Game is usually the highest rated and most viewed event on cable during the first quarter (January to March) of the cable television season, as evidenced further by a Turner Sports press release posted days after last years game.

The NBA has long been a leader in social media and both it’s fans and players (employees) have often taken to their favourite networks to chat about last night’s score, their favorite team / player, or new basketball move the pro’s are working on:

Some sites say that the NBA’s approach to social media is working, however what almost happened with the starting lineup for the upcoming 62nd annual installment has forced the NBA to rethink their approach, or at minimum given them cause for pause.

“We love the fact that fans have input into who the All-Stars are. As social media changes the world and is disruptive, it’s been mildly disruptive to our balloting systems as well.”

You see for years, the NBA has allowed and encouraged it’s fans to cast their vote for who they think should start on each respective team (East vs West). The fans select 5 players to start on each team for a total of 10 starters, the more votes a player gets, the more likely they are to start in the All-Star Game. So what happens when a player who’s nothing more than a slightly above-average NBA center, is heavily backed socially by the right people (or person in this case)?

Well, this happens:

The player’s name is Zaza Pachulia,  a center for the Dallas Mavericks and because of people like Hayes Grier, came just short of being named a starter in the All-Star Game. Pachulia finished just 14,227 votes away from starting for the Western Conference, and in doing so received more votes than Golden State Warriors stand-out forward Draymond Green. However, Zaza may have actually made it into the All-Star Game had Hayes Grier understood how the voting actually worked on Twitter.

“That’s the unintended consequence of opening up voting to a marketplace where one use of the hashtag #NBAvote along with a player’s name on any of a number of social media platforms constitutes one ballot cast. Suddenly, one person with millions of followers — Justin Bieber, Drake, Nash Grier, many others — can not only cast their one ballot, but use the signal-boosting power of their millions-wide reach to generate many thousands more votes for their chosen candidate.” says Dan Devine, editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports.”Zaza Pachulia came just short of being a starter in the NBA All-Star Game and would’ve made it if Hayes Grier knew how to vote”

The saving grace, or silver lining for the NBA in all of this is that Grier didn’t vote properly, as he included the hashtag #NBAVOTEZAZA rather than “#NBAVote Zaza Pachulia” that should have been used, had he followed the proper format.

The NBA commissioner Adam Silver had this to say “On (fan) balloting, it’s something we’ll continue to look at,” Silver said. ”We love the fact that fans have input into who the All-Stars are. As social media changes the world and is disruptive, it’s been mildly disruptive to our balloting systems as well. I know that’s something we’ll take a fresh look.”

“Mildly disruptive to our balloting systems” is a pretty neat way of saying, “Zaza Pachulia almost started the All-Star Game thanks to Wyclef Jean, a Vine celebrity and a strong showing from the Republic of Georgia.” says Devine.

Here we see an example of how an influential superstar like Justin Bieber can put his Belieber’s to work for whomever he so chooses:

Lessons for Others

While most companies nowadays strive to drive customer engagement through pull marketing techniques such as social media, there’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t, and the amount of influence you give your customers is not something to be taken lightly.

On one hand the league benefits from the fans participation and engagement, and if players were selected just on stats alone, one of the 50 greatest NBA Players according to HoopsHype Kobe Bryant, who has announced he’ll be retiring after this season, would not be starting in this years event given his season stats up to this point. Kobe has been a perennial All-Star throughout most (until recent), if not all, of his first ballot hall of fame career. Similarly as to when Michael Jordan was given the opportunity to start in his final All-Star game (no thanks to Vince Carter giving in to the public sentiment and stepping aside), Kobe certainly deserves to be starting, and the fans got that one right.

Peter Parker aka Spider-Man taught us that “With great power, comes great responsibility”, and in the case of the NBA’s All-Star voting system, at least by some fans, that responsibility has been overlooked.

David Silver, it seems, will explore new ways to continue to give fans a voice while keeping intervention to a minimum. According to Dan Levine, “Finding out how the commissioner plans to thread that particular needle ought to be at least as fascinating as watching Zaza Nation rise up as one.”, In other words, “Get your popcorn ready“.

Organization: National Basketball Association
Industry: Sports Entertainment
Name of Organization Contact: Adam Silver, Commissioner

Authored by: Romeo Crugnale

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Devine, D (2015, January 29). NBA eyes ‘fresh look’ at All-Star fan voting via social media. Retrieved February 4, 2016 from Yahoo! Sports,–fresh-look–at-all-star-fan-voting-via-social-media-203208400.html
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