TEXT OF INTERVIEWLISA NAPOLI: These days, the sports pages have been reading a bit more like the crime blotter. There has been a long list of scuffles with the law lately among pro athletes. Business of Sports commentator David Carter says that’s led to a clampdown by league commissioners, who are beefing up conduct policies and fines.
DAVID CARTER: It seems like, you know, even though athletes have never really been perceived as alter boys, there’s really a distinct feel these days and the leagues are catching onto it, that the perception exists that the inmates are running the asylum. And so I think you’re starting to see these leagues really try to clamp down because if they don’t do it, it’s gonna hurt their cash flow.
NAPOLI: Right, they know they have to, they’ve got an image problem, but what put them over the edge in terms of trying to reign these guys in?
CARTER: Well I don’t know if it’s been any specific example in any specific league, but if you look at the NBA for instance, they’ve been hypersensitive about their image since the brawl at Auburn Hill a couple of years ago. Major League Baseball right now, individual franchises are trying to figure out what’s the right balance of beer in the clubhouse. They’ve had a couple very high-profile instances with the St. Louis Cardinals. The NFL, you know, over the course of the last year or so has had quite a few high-profile player arrests. And so I think it’s the culmination of all these things and I think the commissioners realize that image, like Andre Agassi used to say, is everything.
NAPOLI: It seems like a hard marketing thing though. You’ve got to appeal to people with kids and you’ve got to appeal to people who want to be cool. Obviously being thuggy isn’t really a good marketing tool but . . .
CARTER: I think there’s more to it than that though. It’s not just making yourself available and marketing to those fans, but it’s increasingly the corporate fan. Not just at the stadium but the advertisers and the sponsors and I think that they’re going to become even more leery over time. At some point they might exert more pressure on the league because you know what, when they sponsor/advertise in sports, their brands rubs up against the leagues’ and vice versa. And so I think they’re gonna be growing increasingly leery even if fans haven’t.
NAPOLI: So what are the leagues doing to try to get the players to shape themselves up and do you think it’ll work at all?
CARTER: Yeah it’s a tough one because the leagues typically have to work with the players associations. In the NFL for instance, the player association headed by Gene Upshaw, they’ve been very willing to work with Roger Godell on their new player conduct policy. Major League Baseball’s always been a little bit more reluctant to acquiesce to the demands of the league. And the NBA has been somewhere in between. But until they get buy-in across the board, these little things that happen, the little rule tweaks and all that will merely be seen as window dressing.
NAPOLI: David Carter is executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC. In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli. Enjoy your day.
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