NBA Is the Real Loser After Failing to Send Zion to New York or L.A.

(Bloomberg) -- The New York Knicks weren’t the biggest losers of the National Basketball Association draft lottery. The distinction belongs to the league itself, sports marketers and advertising executives said.

With four teams left in the running for Zion Williamson, the lottery was shaping up to be a marketer’s dream for the NBA, which had the very real possibility of its newest, biggest star heading to one of the two largest media markets.

Only the 18-year-old won’t be heading to New York City, where Madison Avenue would have had a field day with college basketball’s player of the year; nor is he heading to Los Angeles, where the pairing of an athletic supernova and LeBron James would have ignited talk of the Lakers next dynamic duo.

Instead, Williamson in all likelihood is going to New Orleans, which on the Nielsen list of U.S. media markets resides at No. 50, behind Grand Rapids, Michigan. Memphis, ranked 51, was also in the running.

“From a straight marketing standpoint, with the four teams left, there were two that were A+ and the other two were far below that,” said Steve Rosner, co-founder and partner of 16W Marketing in New Jersey.

NBA Is the Real Loser After Failing to Send Zion to New York or L.A.

One-Name Icons

The NBA is the most star-driven of the four major U.S. sports leagues. It has historically been powered by one-name icons like Magic, Michael and LeBron.

The draft lottery -- held annually since 1985 -- determines the order in which non-playoff teams get to select incoming players. The New Orleans Pelicans, who landed the top pick even though they had just a 6% chance, will officially make Williamson theirs on June 20, when the league stages its draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

“This is a great night for our city and our fans,” said Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, whose statement didn’t address any specific player. Williamson isn’t just any promising rising star. He’s so influential, even as a college kid, that when he tore his sneaker on national TV Nike’s shares dipped the following day.

The Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns each had a 14% chance at the No. 1 pick, best among the 14 clubs that participated in the lottery. The Lakers, meantime, had a 2% shot, and were still alive with four clubs remaining.

“It’s not ideal for the league. Obviously, they wanted Zion in New York, L.A. or Chicago,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. “You want those teams to be relevant and they just haven’t been.”

In the wake of the lottery, shares of Knicks broadcaster MSG Networks Inc. fell as much as 6.5% to $20.93. It was their worst rout in two weeks.

‘A Lot to Take In’

Williamson said during the lottery telecast that he’s never been to New Orleans.
“It’s a lot to take in,” he said.

On the bright side for the young player, Rosner and Dorfman agree that an NBA player can become an icon even if he resides in a small market. Take James, for instance, who spent the early part of his career in Cleveland before moving on to Miami and, ultimately, Los Angeles. If Williamson plays well, as expected, he’ll enjoy an eye-popping sneaker deal and more.

“Because of where we’re at with social media and digital platforms, Zion could still be extremely, extremely successful off the court,” said Rosner, noting that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has become a national star even though he plays in the National Football League’s smallest market. “Still, were Zion’s marketers wishing he went to L.A. or New York? I would say emphatically yes.”

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