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Fatal Marketing Miscalculation

The NBA has been blessed with a product that looks good on TV. The players faces aren't hidden away like those in football and hockey. The action is vivid, constant, and acrobatic, unlike baseball and golf. There aren't big lulls between points (unless Jeff Van Gundy has anything to do with it) like soccer.

And Michael Jordan looks great in slow-motion, doesn't he?

But the NBA's romance with television has gone too deep. The quintessential NBA experience is still seeing a game in person, something young people never do anymore because the stadiums are filled with the corporate clients who can afford the prices.

An incredible article from Seth Schiesel in The New York Times shows how video games are exposing this flaw:

Since 2000, television broadcast ratings for almost all major sports have fallen among male viewers between 12 and 34. Even Nascar, whose ratings have generally been hailed by the industry as healthy, has suffered a modest decline, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Over the same period, sales of sports video games in the United States have risen by about 34 percent, to more than $1.2 billion last year from slightly less than $900 million in 2000, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Young men are also the core market for video games.

For the lords of sports, the attitude toward the video game revolution seems to vacillate between appreciation for the licensing revenue that video games can bring (the National Football League, for instance, reaped an estimated $300 million from a recent five-year licensing deal with Electronic Arts, the leading video game company) and concern about whether these games are forcing the cash cow of television onto an unwelcome diet.

"I was on a panel recently where someone asked me what my worst fear was," said David Stern, the N.B.A. commissioner, in a telephone interview. "It was that as video games got so graphically close to perfection, and you could create your own players - their hairdos, their shoes - that there might be a battle between seeing games in person or on television and seeing it play out on a video game."