TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bob Moon: Picture thousands jumping up and down in Boston cheering on the Celtics. The green team paraded through the city’s streets to celebrate their first NBA finals victory in 22 years.
In Game 6 of the finals on Tuesday, they delivered a serious beating to the Los Angeles Lakers — ugh, 131 to 92 — but despite that lopsided win, it was a tough fight.
But was it the perfect kind of playoff that the National Basketball Association had been looking for?
Joining us to talk about it is basketball aficionado and sports writer Henry Abbott. He writes the TrueHoop blog for ESPN.com.
Henry Abbott: Hi, how are you, Bob?
Moon: Good, thanks. It’s a revelation that we broadcast types aren’t the only ones to keep an eye on the ratings. So did the playoffs deliver the ratings — and thus the revenue — that the NBA was hoping for?
Abbott: Well, I think there was the expectation this could be one of the best years ever with the Lakers and the Celtics in the Finals. It was kind of a dream match up for the NBA and the results were very good. I don’t know if it was quite the shocking results the NBA thought we might get, but NBA’s very pleased to say that the six finals games were the six most watched TV programs in June. The ratings were up 50 percent in ratings and 61 percent in viewership compared to last year. Game 6 was the most watched program on TV since the season finale of American Idol, which was in late May. So very good results for the NBA.
Moon: Let’s look at the Celtics. Clearly, they had some great players here, but I wonder, does the strength lie deeper in, say, the managers and the owners — a pretty smart bunch of guys there?
Abbott: Yeah, there’s a very interesting setup in Boston. Wyc Grousbeck, who’s the chairman, is a really sharp, young owner and their front office is by far the smallest in the league — the people who make the basketball decisions. It’s essentially Danny Ainge, this guy Mike Zarren and three scouts who aren’t in the office. I know Zarren; I’m very impressed by him and he’s one of the heaviest users of a video scouting service called Synergy. He watches all kinds of players, comes up with all kinds of assessments that a lot of teams don’t have. I think by being smarter, even with a small front office they’ve been able to make some better decisions than other teams.
Moon: So does this translate into more sponsorship dollars and jersey sales for the Celtics?
Abbott: Sure. The way this makes money for people is very long term for the most part. I mean, most of the revenue comes from the broadcast deals which are already in place. You know, they have a little bit better data to show next time the broadcast deals are up, but like you said, selling jerseys, selling tickets for next season, selling all the slew of NBA-themed marketed products, you know, from video games to jerseys, sweaters, headbands… And speaking of team revenue, the Celtics are one of the saviest out there at making money from sponsors. They have little sponsorship logos on almost everything. Even the nameplates on the players’ lockers are sponsored by somebody. Downtown Boston is still covered in these big banners promoting the Celtics and each one of them has the logo of a different corporate sponsor there. So I think if any team is prepared to make some money off some publicity, I think they’re in the running for the best in the league.
Moon: It’s not all good news for the NBA though. You’ve got one of the best regular seasons in recent history and a dream playoff and then it’s all tainted by the return of the referee scandal. Is this going to be a lingering thing? How long is it going to go on?
Abbott: I think it’s going to go on for a long time. I’m not convinced the NBA has done a good job of refuting the allegations of disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy, who says that essentially the NBA has inspired referees to call games certain ways that would make the league more money. The NBA says, of course, it’s a bunch of nonsense and he’s not a credible source, et cetera, et cetera. It may all be true, but the NBA has very good information including video and their own internal rating systems which could refute such claims and they’ve kept their cards very close to their chest there. They haven’t trusted the public with any additional information other than blanket denials and I don’t think people find it convincing. Various web polls have found between 70 and 90 percent of people think that Donaghy was telling the truth about a particular series in 2002 where the Kings may have gotten some bad calls against the Lakers.
Moon: Something tells me we’re going to be debating this for a long time to come. Henry Abbott writes the TrueHoop blog for ESPN.com. Thanks for your insights.
Abbott: Well, thanks very much for having me.
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