Last night I attended an event for author Stefan Fatsis’ new book, A Few Seconds of Panic. The event was held at Barnes & Noble and, arriving a few minutes early, my colleague Rich Gallagher and I noticed something interesting about the crowd. It was made up predominantly of people who we wouldn’t immediately peg as hardcore football fans; the type that would be interested in the inner workings of the NFL. Rich wondered if perhaps these weren’t Stefan Fatsis fans who knew the author from his previous book, the New York Times bestseller, Word Freak.
During the Q&A session and overhearing some post-event chit chat it became clear that yes, the audience was filled with diehard Scrabble junkies. “Stefan’s Scrabble posse rolls deep,” Rich commented. Indeed.
Why had all these people, at least the ones that weren’t related to Stefan, come to see him read from his new book, when his foray into the world of competitive Scrabble had occurred six or seven years ago? Because Stefan had not merely reported on Scrabble, he immersed himself in Scrabble, he became one of them. This is a level of authenticity that comes from truly spending time with a subject and understanding what makes the people involved do what they do. Not coincidentally, this is the same approach he has taken with his latest effort. Not merely writing about football the way Michael Lewis wrote about baseball in the excellent,Moneyball, but by actually seeing how he would do if he laced ’em up and tried to be a professional kicker.
The people at Barnes & Noble are fans of Fatsis, and will no doubt remain so regardless of his subject matter not because he is a talented writer, which he undoubtedly is, but because it is clear through his writing that he truly cares about his subject. That level of authenticity requires a commitment not all writers (or brand managers) are willing to make. But the results – loyal customers – are worth it.
The evolution of the sports marketing world didn’t happen overnight, nor did it directly coincide with a specific event. There are however certain benchmarks, touchstones and signposts that, viewed through the lens of history, give us an better understanding of the world we live in today and how it came to be. Part III of this series looks at one event from the early 1990s, the USA Basketball “Dream Team” that participated in the Barcelona summer Olympics, to provide insight on the development of the NBA, and basketball in general, as a truly global sport.
The USA Dream Team
In 1988 the United States men’s basketball team finished with the bronze medal in Seoul, marking only the second time the U.S. had failed to win the gold any time they had participated in the competition. There would not be a repeat four years later. The U.S. decided to send their NBA stars to Barcelona, and in so doing made basketball, and by extension the NBA, into a global game. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the rest of the NBA Dream Team were not merely competitors, they were the featured attraction in what amounted to exhibition games for the Olympics, and the greatest global marketing campaign the NBA had ever seen. But the other nations left Barcelona with more than autographs from David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Scottie Pippen. And when they returned home they soon found NBA games on TV, and U.S.-based players in their domestic leagues.