Thursday, May 30, 2013

Broken News - Sports Media Rights Bubble

The sports media business is a lucrative one.  We know that.  Of course over the years, especially via sports, we have become desensitized the incredibly large dollar figures (read: Alex Rodriguez's contract).  Media, namely TV rights deals, have had the same effect of late.  Look no further than ESPN's vast portfolio:

Property - Annual Payment From ESPN
NFL Monday Night Football -  $1.9 Billion
NBA - $930 Million (TNT shares some of the cost)
US Open (Tennis) - $75 Million
Big East - $18 Million 
ACC - $100 Million  
Big Ten - $260 Million  
Mountain West - $18 Million
Big 12/PAC 12 - $450 Million (split with FOX) 
Orange Bowl - $55 Million      
Sugar Bowl - $80 Million
Rose Bowl - $80 Million

If you cannot do math, I assure you that it is a ton of money.  And with a reported $125 million new studio in the works, money in Bristol, Conn. seems to be, well, endless.  ESPN is also in the process of creating an entire network for the SEC, so even though there are no numbers on cost floating around the Internet, we can be sure that ESPN will be going all in on the project (their recent hire of Paul Finebaum is an indication of this). 

The expenses are adding up, and that's not to say that ESPN is becoming financially unstable.  Earlier this month, Disney's (ESPN's parent company) stock hit an all-time high.  And with the television ratings for sporting events the closest thing to a sure thing in media right now, advertising will likely see a steady increase as well.

But you have to wonder, how long can this go on?  The sports media rights bubble will eventually burst.  It's inevitable.  But when?

Last week, ESPN announced that they would be laying off between 300 and 400 employees.  Certainly not a great sign of things to come.  The pressure is certainly felt in Bristol.  Whether it is from the Disney stakeholders, the competition of NBC Sports and the upcoming Fox Sports 1, cable subscribers pushing back against rising costs, advertisers becoming increasingly cash strapped, or what have you, the pressure is unquestionably there.  Nothing is forever.

The point is not to say that the pin is within an inch of the balloon, just that it is coming.  As more viewing options become available and crowds further disperse to different viewing experiences, the days of rights fees reaching nearly $2 billion annually may be closing in on us. 

The question is, "when?"

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Monday, May 27, 2013

East vs West: A Look at TV Ratings for NBA Conference Championships

The conference championships for the NBA have been two completely different stories regarding television viewership. Many factors can be looked at when assessing viewership. The size of the television markets in the area surrounding the teams is a big factor. Another significant factor is the time that the games are played. Many east coast viewers prefer a start time of 8:00 or 8:30 rather than after 9:00. Although significant factors can be looked at when assessing viewership, the factor that is most telling is fan interest in the game.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Game one of this series was a Sunday afternoon game. This game was far from successful in strength of television viewers. This game was the lowest rated conference final opener since 2007. The game drew a 3.9 overnight rating on ABC. A popular game one of the conference finals last year was the Heat vs. Celtics. This game as a comparison was viewed by 41% more people.

Game two was not much better for the series. Although the game went to overtime, only 4.6 million viewers watched the action. As a comparison, game two of the Heat vs. Celtics series last year drew 8.8 million viewers.

Not clear enough information is available for game three or four, but it can be expected that ratings were not strong as the series ended in a sweep.

Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Game one of this series started on a Wednesday night. Although the time of week was not ideal, this game drew a 5.3 rating with 8.2 million viewers tuning in. Game one ended up being a great game that Miami edged out in overtime. The large difference in game one viewership between the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference represented the biggest gap since 2004.

Game two and three do not have information posted yet. You can expect game two viewership to be high because it was a great game that Indiana was able to win. Game three may have less of a viewership because the result was decisive.

Final Thought
A clear interest has been shown in the Heat and Pacers series. The same can not be said for the Western Conference Finals. The presence of the big three in Miami certainly attribute to the ratings. Although the Western Conference Finals ended in San Antonio sweeping Memphis, the series was closer than it may appear. If Miami goes on to play in the NBA Finals, I expect television ratings to be about average compared to other seasons. If the Pacers can upset the Heat in the east, I expect television ratings to be down for the Finals.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dollars & Sense: NBA Rebranding in New Orleans and Charlotte

This week marks the beginning of the conference finals in the NBA playoffs – Memphis Grizzlies against the San Antonio Spurs (Spurs lead 2-0) in the west and the Miami Heat against the Indiana Pacers (Heat lead 1-0) in the east.  However, this week has been the week for the losers.  Between the NBA Draft lottery on Tuesday and the current rebranding efforts in New Orleans and Charlotte, the losers are becoming just a little bit more lovable.  Or at least they are trying to be anyway.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans franchise has been marred by weak performances over the years and even weaker stability.  Making their debut in the league as the Charlotte Hornets in 1988 alongside the Miami Heat, the Hornets were constantly struggling in their first three years.  Names like Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, and Glen Rice helped build the franchise to the point where Rice led them to their first back-to-back NBA playoff appearances in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

Rice, Bogues, and Mourning (

However, attendance and fan base found themselves in rapid decline after the 1997-98 season.  Dropping from their peak in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons where they averaged 24,042 fans per game, the Hornets found themselves averaging only 11,286 in 2001-02.  That was the final straw for the franchise in Charlotte.

The Hornets relocated their franchise to New Orleans searching for greener pastures and greener wallets.  What they found was a relatively small increase in attendance though.  In the 2003-04 season, the Hornets ranked 28th in the NBA in attendance. 

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the New Orleans franchise split their time in Oklahoma City due to the destruction in their home city.  Though the Hornets played in Oklahoma City to wonderful attendance success – proven success that later aided the Seattle Super Sonics in their controversial relocation to Oklahoma City in 2008 – it was not their home town.

Now settled back into their home in New Orleans with a couple of high profile talents on their roster in Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, the franchise is beginning to feel like they have an identity again.  One problem… The Hornets name is still from their Charlotte days.  They want their own.

Enter the New Orleans Pelicans.  Currently undergoing the transformation, the Pelicans are now official and awaiting game one of the 2013-14 regular season to show it off.  After walking away with the sixth pick in this summer’s NBA Draft after Tuesday’s draft lottery, the Pelicans will look to add some more fire power to their young squad.

The early stages of the transition from the menacing Hornets to the seemingly friendly Pelicans has been met with its fair share of criticism.  Is the criticism warranted?  It is tough to say because anybody can sit back and criticize when they have not been in the driver’s seat on this type of decision.   Let’s just give them their credit in that the logo designers made the most intimidating pelican possible.  And let’s be honest, the New Orleans franchise was doomed for a unfitting name when the Utah Jazz – Utah! – took the Jazz nickname.

Charlotte Hornets

After the Hornets left Charlotte for New Orleans in 2002, the city was left without an NBA franchise.  However, despite the declining attendance numbers that pushed the Hornets to New Orleans in the first place, the NBA saw potential.
The city was not without an NBA franchise for long as the Bobcats were born in 2004, two years after the Hornets left.  Expansion had been on the mind of the NBA for a little while, and Charlotte had supported a franchise in the past.  Had the NBA known the potential in Oklahoma City – potential that was not realized until after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – maybe Charlotte would still be waiting for the NBA’s return. 

Problem was that bobcats are not really synonymous with the Charlotte areas, or many areas in the world, so the nickname seemed a little bit out of left field.  Sure it sounds fierce, but that is not the point.  In the NBA where there are so many classic team names - think Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, 76ers -  few people could envision the Bobcats (or the Pelicans for that matter) becoming a name of that stature.

But now, with the Hornets becoming the Pelicans in New Orleans, the window is now open for the Bobcats to return to their roots by switching back to the Hornets.  Basically, now instead of having two cities with confused nicknames, we have one wrong righted and one team still trying to figure it out and create their own identity.


Regardless of how you feel about the Pelicans or the Hornets or the Bobcats, one thing will always ring true: winning cures everything.  Look at the opposite end of the spectrum in Major League Baseball last season with the Miami Marlins.  Known as the Florida Marlins since their first season in 1993, ownership decided to rebrand the team with new colors, a new ballpark, a new roster, and a more geographically narrowed home in Miami prior to the beginning of last season. 

Of course, we all know that the Marlins went on to completely implode last year finishing in last place in the National League East and resulting in the fire sale of players this past offseason, and now they are terrible again.  Oh, and attendance is back to its pre-Marlins Park numbers.  If the Marlins would have kept winning, then maybe they could have build on the momentum of the new park and the infusion of talent.  Now that would have been a rebranding success.

What has become a relatively quiet rebranding success is the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL.  With a rich history in the WHA and then the NHL from 1972-1996, the Jets were a relatively successful franchise before being moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes in 1996.  Never missing the playoffs in more than two seasons in a row in their NHL days, the Jets were always in it.  In 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg and brought the tradition back to life.

This past season, the Jets found themselves four points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but they were certainly in it.  Also, and probably more importantly, the Jets averaged 100-percent attendance with just over 15,000 fans per game (remember that basketball attendance capacities in arenas are higher than hockey).  It is hard to ask for more from a team that just wrapped up their second season in a new city.

By now, it should be clear that the key to rebranding success for the Pelicans and the Hornets is to do exactly the opposite that the Marlins did.  Winning is a major player in building a loyal fan base, and winning is something that the Marlins are not doing but the Jets are.  Whether it is the NBA or the MLB or the NHL or any other professional sports league in the world, the formula is simple.  Just win, baby. 

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What Kings Deal Means for the NBA

After much talk about the Kings future. A decision was finally made. After an apparent deal was done to move the team to Seattle, residents of Sacramento were not happy. The Maloofs brothers were being pressured to keep the team in Sacramento. The situation was tense because Seattle lost an NBA franchise and was hungry for a return team. Sacramento has been home to a loyal fan base that was supportive of its team.

The bid for the team to move to Seattle was in place, as I wrote about previously. Later Sacramento made a push to keep the Kings, an argument they ultimately won. The NBA owners officially voted to reject the bid to move the team to Seattle and keep the team in Sacramento. This decision was able to be made after billionaire Vivek Ranadive came to an agreement to purchase 65 percent of the Kings and keep them in Sacramento.

Dollars Behind the Deal
Ranadive will pay $348 million for his 65 percent stake in the team. Ranadive already put $200 million in an escrow account before the deal in anticipation of the deal getting done. The total valuation of the sale will be $535 million.

The team owed money to the city of Sacramento and the NBA, a total of $60 million. After taking that debt into account, the Maloff brothers were able to make about $200 million for their share of the team.

Ranadive secured about $250 million from Sacramento public officials toward a potential new Kings arena.
Vivek Ranadive

What it Means for the League
The sale of the Kings for $535 million set a record for the National Basketball Association. From the year 2012 to 2013, the average value of an NBA team rose 30%. A lot of the reason for the increase in value has to do with new stadiums and a television contract worth more money.

At the end of the 2011 calendar year, Joshua Harris and his group purchased the Philadelphia 76ers. It is diffiuclt to imagine that they paid only $280 million for the team. Looks like a pretty good investment right now.

Final Thought
With the rapid growth of the league, expansion has to be looked upon seriously. Although Sacramento was ultimately successful in winning the team, Seattle put up a good fight. The bid for the team to move to Seattle was more than respectable. The obvious interest in having a team in Seattle must be looked at seriously by the NBA. The NBA in the past has avoided talk of expansion but now is the time where it should be looked at because of the increasing revenue value of each team.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Broken News: Fox Sports 1 Takes Chance on TSN Duo

Regardless of what you think about the current format of ESPN's Sportscenter, one thing is true: the show is still a staple in millions of mornings across the country.  Has been for years.  Maybe viewers feel they are getting too much debate and not enough highlights, but either way, many have stayed.

Last year, NBC Sports Network launched its counter morning show called The Lights.  The show is fast-paced for the morning commuter looking to cram as many sports highlights into his or her morning bowl of cereal.  A stark contrast to ESPN's show, but certainly does not have the big-time personality or the ratings to back up the talk.

(Sports Illustrated sports media reporter Richard Deitsch talks with Onrait and O'Toole about the move to America)

Now Fox Sports 1 is less than 100 days until its August 17th launch date, Fox is planning their morning competitor to take on ESPN and NBC Sports.  Fox Sports 1 will be available in about 90 million homes at the time of the launch.  Fox Sports Live will be their morning show, and among their high profile hires for the network are the two men that will head the show.

Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole have been heading Sportscentre on TSN in Canada to wild success.  Their cult following with America's neighbor to the north is one the ESPN has not seen since its earlier days of names like Steiner, Olberman, Roberts, Patrick and Mayne graced the Bristol, Conn. set.  Now those two bring their offbeat yet hilarious chemistry stateside.

What do you think of some of their top moments?

Quirky indeed, these two may really have a chance to change the morning sports viewing landscape.  With almost a sketch comedy feel to their delivery, they have proved to be extremely effective in presenting the important part.  You know, the highlights.  It should be interesting to see what Onrait and O'Toole bring to the table at Fox especially when considering that the former TSN duo is also bringing along their long-time producer.

(Here is a link to Fox Sports 1's opening day schedule)

The battle for ratings could be slow at first as Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Live begins to gain a footing, but the competition may not be as mountainous as one may expect.  Sportscenter's top rating on Monday - I would presume an average Monday with no huge news but NHL ad NBA playoffs running - was the 6:00 p.m. edition that attracted 850,000 viewers (0.4 rating among 18-49 year old viewers).  The Lights on NBCSN did not crack the 0.2 rating barrier among 18-49 year old viewers (although, to be fair, neither did the morning edition of Sportscenter).

Potentially dragging viewers away from Sportscenter and The Lights could be a revised approach to the morning show.  While Sportsenter has an all-around highlight, analysis, and debate focus and The Lights has a strictly highlight focus, Fox Sports Live will have a two desk element that will likely closer resemble ESPN's version than anything.  Onrait and O'Toole will be on highlight duty, while newly acquired former ESPNer Charissa Thompson will head a panel at a separate desk.

No word yet on whether they will be embracing the debate.

Or embracing Tim Tebow.

Either way, will you give Fox Sports 1 a chance?

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter at @kevin_rossi.

Dollars & Sense - All Glass Everything

The latest wave of stadium renovations has brought about some imaginative ideas for how to build a mega sports palace.  When the pockets of billionaire owners are deepened by the seemingly endless yet also cash-strapped wallets of their city and state governments – and by extension, your wallet, if you live there – the imagination roams free with uninhibited reckless abandon. 

If you have not seen the designs for the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium plan, then you should surely check them out.  The all-glass structure to let the beautiful sunlight in through its non-retractable roof looks to be on the same futuristic level as the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium design.  Some say it looks like it should be on a Sandcrawler.  I think it looks like one of those robots from the old show Robot Wars.

Whatever your opinion is of the design, we can at least all agree that it is an ode to excess.  Just as the Falcons design is.  Just as is Marlins Park or Cowboy Stadium or the new Yankee Stadium.  

And as the rich get rich and we continue to privatize profits while publicizing debts, it is impossible to ignore the hefty price tag that will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Minnesota (namely Minneapolis) taxpayers. 
In total, the price tag of the new stadium is estimated to be in the $975 million range (I can’t imagine what they had to give up to keep the tag under $1 billion).  Almost half, $427 million to be exact, will come from the Vikings and a loan from the NFL.  The rest - $548 million – will come from the state of Minnesota ($398 million) and the city of Minneapolis ($150 million).  That means the Vikings’ new stadium will be 54% publicly financed, fourth most out of the last 10 NFL stadiums built.

According to Forbes, Minnesota senator John Marty estimated that under the current financing structure, the new Vikings stadium would cost the taxpayers $77.30 per ticket per game for 30 years.  And apparently the estimated does not even include the tax exemptions that the Vikings and the construction will receive in yet another sweetheart lease deal.

Funding for the project is already hitting a snag as the state tax on electronic pull tabs that was supposed to generate the first wave of revenue has come up short.  This is all coming from a state government that has already proposed $2 billion in new taxes and looked to cut $150 million from the state Health and Human Services budget that has already sustained over $1 billion in reductions in the past two years.  Oh yea, the state has a deficit of $627 million too (yes it is progress from the $1.1 billion that it was when Gov. Dayton took over two years ago).

Meanwhile, the anti-public-funding for the stadium oppositions continues to gain traction.  The problem is not necessarily that the rich get richer; it is how they are doing it.  We are living in a day and age where we pay more, get less, and are left wondering where exactly our money is going.  The people of Minnesota know where this money is going, and it is going straight into the pockets of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and the NFL. 
With the government strapped for cash, their actions should be rooted in righting the course, not playing into billionaire profiteering.  If only the world were as transparent as the new Vikings’ stadium will be.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Big 3 Impact on the Heat

The Miami Heat are pursuing another NBA Championship. In the summer of 2010, the Heat resigned Dwyane Wade and brought in Chris Bosh and Lebron James. This trio was expected to bring the team success for the foreseeable future. The first season after the team was assembled, the Heat went on to the championship but ended up losing to the Dallas Mavericks. In 2012, the Heat found themselves back in the Finals. This time they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the championship. This year looks promising for the Miami Heat, but there is a lot of basketball still to play.

The acquisitions that were made in order to create the big three have paid off on the court. Below I will assess the impact the big three have made off the court in the area of attendance and team value.

Attendance figures are often skewed because of the differing size of basketball arenas. In the data I looked at the 2012 season was also impacted by less games due to the lockout. I looked at average fans per home games specifically for the Miami Heat in order to assess the attendance impact of the big three.

In the 2010 season (the season before the big three) the Miami Heat averaged 17,730 fans per home game. In 2011, the first season after the acquisition, the Heat averaged 19,778 fans per home game. The increase in fans was quite significant in the first year and the impact of the big three has not faded since. In the shortened 2012 season, fans per home game attendance grew slightly to 19,935. This season has kept attendance high with an average of 19,982 fans per home game.

Team Value
The team value of the Miami Heat was taken by Forbes each year. Teams value in the NBA have naturally been increasing each year but not at the rate that the Heat have seen.

In the 2010 season the Miami Heat were valued at an estimated $425 million. The season after the acquisition saw a rise in estimated value to $457 million. After a lockout season, NBA team values skyrocketed. In an estimated valuation done in January of 2013, the Miami Heat were worth $625 million.

Final Thought
The numbers tell the story for the Miami Heat. The success of the team has been evident on the court and even more so off the court. It is often difficult to see true impact by simply assessing numbers. I have seen the Heat impact for myself through my family. My grandfather, a Florida resident, has never been an NBA fan. I was watching game three of the Heat vs. Bulls series and he was avidly rooting for the Heat (while I was rooting for the underdog). He then told me that he watches all the Heat games he can because it is fun to watch "true talent." Interesting.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dollars & Sense - Miami Marlins Continued Attendance Decline

The Miami Marlins are bad.  Really bad.  We all know that, though.  It really isn't much of a secret.  But sports are about unconditionally loving your team, no matter how bad they may be.  With the way that the Miami Marlins' fans are buying up tickets (or not), they are showing us that sometimes there may in fact be conditions to fanhood loving.

Fans give their vote approval or disapproval of the current state of their favorite team by either buying tickets, watching on television, consuming any other sort of media related to the team, or none of the above.  These days it seems that more and more Marlins fans are choosing the latter.  On Monday, Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) documented the Marlins continuous attendance decline.  What began in the second half of last season, has rolled on into the early stages of 2013.

Last season, in their first season in Marlins Park, the Marlins averaged 27,400 fans per game. That was a big increase from their mark of just over 18,700 the year prior, but not as big as the front office would have liked to see with the money put into the team and on-paper firepower.  This season, the Marlins are averaging 18,864 fans per game, thus putting them within 100 fans per game of their pre-Marlins Park attendance figures.  Only the Tampa Bay Rays have seen a bigger decline from year one to year two in their current stadium.  I mean, it is not like tickets are ridiculously overpriced like the early days of the new Yankee Stadium.  We are talking $9 tickets here people!  (Thank you again to Bizball Maury Brown for the data.)

On Tuesday, the team decided to close off a portion of their upper deck.  The practice of "tarping off" sections of seats is usually saved for franchises with years and years woes and poor ticket sales.  This helps to knock down attendance capacity, which is why it is used from time to time in the NFL due to their blackout rules.  Ask the Jacksonville Jaguars how this has worked for their franchise.
Hollywood Reporter

The rise and fall of Miami Marlins and their love-to-hate owner Jeffrey Loria is well documented.  In the offseason prior to the 2012 season, the Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Heath Bell to usher in the franchise's brand new Marlins Park.  They were even in play to land the coveted Albert Pujols!  The fact that Loria & Co. was under SEC investigation for possible violations in obtaining the funding for Marlins Park (the public funded $500 million of the construction costs) is more or less irrelevant here speaks volumes to the position of the franchise is in.

So, headed into the new season, Loria had his new group of players playing in his new ballpark, everything seemed perfect. The Marlins got off to a quick start... in the wrong direction.  Finishing the year as the cellar-dwellers in the National League East at 69-93, the Marlins were just like that guy that peaked in high school.  On paper in the offseason, the Marlins looked like contenders.  Yet as we are reminded year in and year out, pennants are not won at the Winter Meetings.

After the season, the previous year's blockbuster signings were ship up to Canada along with lifetime Marlins' pitcher Josh Johnson.  The only players of promise that remained were young slugger Giancarlo Stanton and outspoken youngster Logan Morrison.  Instead of debating whether the Marlins were a playoff team like a year ago, the media debated whether Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig should step in and stop Loria video game-esque dealings.

Is there anything that can the Marlins can do to get back on top in the eyes of their fans?  They keep losing.  They are handcuffed by the whims of the Loria Administration.  They have two young players that have been tossed around in trade rumors but are both currently on the disabled list. Add it all together with one of the worst records in baseball as we near the quarter mark of the season, and it is really a public relations nightmare in South Florida.  There is nothing to hang their brightly colored black, teal, orange, and silver hats on.

Now, the Miami Marlins are living the seemingly endless nightmare.  They are at the bottom and their is absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel.  Fans are tired of living by the stroke of Jeffrey Loria's paint brush (well the actual artist's brush anyhow), and in return they have refused to by Jeffrey Loria's tickets.  Distrust in an ownership regime rarely hits the level saved mainly for a serial cheating spouse, but this one has certainly gone there.  When it comes to Miami Marlins fans, though, you just wonder if they will ever return.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dollars & Sense - Kobe's Twitter is a Fan's Dream

When it comes to sports and their superstar athletes, Twitter is the perfect invention.  Twitter offers real-time, unfiltered, and genuine access into the minds of our favorite sports personalities.  However, Twitter only offers those things.  The latter two - unfiltered and genuine - are all too often cleansed by the heavy duty sponge of public relations.  Every once in a while fans may get a rogue genuine thought that shines through the encrypted public relations branding and obligatory endorsement tweets.

Kobe Bryant is different, though.  He always has been.  One of the best players to ever play in the National Basketball Association, Kobe exploded on the Twitter scene.  As if he could have done it any other way, right?  Of course, this is largely due to his immense super stardom, but it also has to do with his personality.  He is (or at least used to be) antisocial, guarded, and arrogant.  He has gone through a high profile rape trial.  He has dropped the homophobic slur caught on the mic during a game.

The other night after the Los Angeles Lakers' season-long collapse was finally put to its miserable end thanks to the San Antonio Spurs, Kobe said something that I think is fascinating, especially coming from him.  It was along the lines of if you are going to call some a d**k, at least let them be a d**k first.  It was great in equal parts that it is mind-numbingly true about the way we judge people these days and that the world let Kobe be a d**k and now the world is letting him redeem himself.

(Listen to Kobe's comments on Jason Collins and being yourself beginning at the 19:20 mark.)

His Twitter has been at the forefront of Kobe's recent coming-out and redeeming.  You are refreshed by looking at Kobe's timeline, not a whiff of public relations marking and spinning.  There are a few Nike related tweets, but even those look natural from the Mamba himself.  Before he launched his Twitter account, it was anybody's best guest at how connected Kobe really was with the world.  Maybe he lived in his own, superstar world.  Then again, maybe not.

When browsing through his account, you see the superstar connect.  The initial people that he chose to follow were Alex Morgan (USWNT), Usain Bolt, and Serena Williams.  You can also see a bit of a business side too, following Darren Rovell (ESPN), Forbes, and The Economist in his initial wave.  Browse a little further and you will see that he followed Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware after Ware suffered a gruesome broken leg in the NCAA Tournament.

This is all well before Kobe took to in-game tweeting about his Lakers' performance in game one of the Western Conference playoffs against the Spurs.  Although the insight was maybe not exactly what Lakers' management would want to see coming from Kobe's feed, it was brutally honest.  And that is what the fans want.  It added value to the broadcast and to the media coverage (before some media outlets blew Kobe's in-game tweets a bit, um, out of proportion).

(Want to hear more about Kobe Bryant's Twitter usage and branding?  Listen to Kevin Rossi interview social media expert Caleb Mezzy in The Sports Biz Report podcast from the Drexel SMTSU.)

The most recent person that he has followed (as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday) may be the most telling to what Kobe has learned through the years.  The person also has to do with a Monday tweet from Kobe that has well over 41-thousand retweets.

The person: Jason Collins

The Tweet:
Kobe's tweet is in support of Jason Collins, the 34-year-old free agent center that on Monday came out publicly as the first active openly gay athlete in the major four North American sports.  And it is not the first time that Kobe has tweeted in support of the LGBT or against LGBT discrimination.  A few months back, Kobe went back and forth with a few followers telling them not to use homophobic slurs.

It is obvious that Kobe has learned from his past, and is that not the only thing that we can ask from people when they mess up?  There is a realness to his Twitter account that we rarely see, especially among the superstar athletes.  In an age where we are hypersensitive to our brand, we often times become robots - slaves to the corporate message.  But with open honesty and intelligence, Kobe is building a brand that is as strong, if not stronger, than it has ever been.  This type of honest branding is not for everybody, in fact, only a select few really have it.

He is certainly one of them as the window into Kobe Bryant's mind has proved to be an NBA fan's dream.


Regarding Jason Collins' announcement, the NBA was spot on in its handling on Twitter.  In addition to retweeting various NBA superstars (guys like Steve Nash, LeBron James, Shaq, Kobe,etc.) coming out in support of Collins, here are some of the best of how they handled it.

This was not the first time the NBA has used the #NBAFamily, but in my opinion, this is the time that it stood out the most.  I thought it was a great way to aggregate support of Jason Collins.  Also, I thought that retweeting Jason Collins' thank you tweet was a great cap off of the news as the they started with their statement and ended with Collins' thank you.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.