Dwight Howard needs his own TV show like Kobe Bryant needs more incentive to tweet.
But when the Lakers power suits went to Beverly Hills to make their final sales pitch Tuesday, laying it out for the 27-year-old All-Star center as to why he should re-up his contract with the team rather than take his talents elsewhere, there was a curious non-passive bystander in the room.
Time Warner Cable was part of the wooing efforts, with much of the wild speculation focused on far it could do with its 24/7 TWC SportsNet and Deportes outlets in giving Howard the true Hollywood experience.
How is this anything new? For decades, athletes who come to L.A. to enhance their professional careers (not to mention the extracurricular college experience) don’t really need reminders about the perks of having access to national TV talk shows, movie cameos and some of the world’s top recording studios to cut their own musical styling.
But re-introducing the TWC element into this particular scenario appeared to be an even more of a blatant attempt by the Lakers to show off the clout provided by one of their financially imbedded media business partners.
Advantage L.A.? Why not.
“One of the differentiating opportunities afforded athletes playing in Southern California is not only the ability to access the Hollywood culture, but also the ability to actively participate in it,” said David Carter, the Executive Director of the Sports Business Institute and professor of sports business at USC’s Marshall School of Business.
“When athletes think of this market, they consider the extent to which they can become part of the entertainment business more broadly, and one way to do that is to begin by demonstrating your skills and personality on TV. Although few ultimately parlay this access into long term success after their careers are over, it is a compelling carrot for teams throughout the region to dangle.”
As for whether Howard’s wish list of must-have things take his basketball career to the next level, it’s not been widely displayed that an increased foray into TV is of any importance. Although, we did see him get slimed at the recent Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards in Santa Monica. And when he joined the team a year ago, he did hint about wanting to get into the movie scene.
The Lakers were allowed to have a representative from the network be present as long as it was not offering Howard further compensation, which would violate NBA rules.
A source familiar with the Lakers-Howard discussion said TWC’s main contribution to the pitch was more of a reminder about much more programming they do for the Lakers – pre- and post-game shows, “Backstage Lakers” shows, etc. — than a typical cable TV network covering the games. Ratings for the Lakers on TWC are also up since their move from Fox Sports West.
As far as media pitching goes, AEG was also reportedly strong in its message about how it could do off-court brandings, since it has its hands involved with so many things here.
Still, those close to Howard have not been hinting of that being any real demand of his, that his focus was more on the big picture of where the franchise was going – much of that plan dependent on the team being in the second year of a mind-numbing 25-year, $5 billion contract with TWC.
The Rockets may also have some giggle room in giving Howard added TV time with its new Comcast SportsNet Houston channel, a network of which the team owns 30 percent. But distribution problems have hindered the channel’s success rate, so much so that it’s been reported that players can’t even find it on their DirecTV service and often congregate in local sports bars to watch the replay of their just-completed games.
Dallas, with Hollywood-savvy owner Mark Cuban, could be in a position to present Howard with some TV-related business propositions, having launched the first all high-definition cable channel and being a prominent participate in the ABC reality show, “Shark Tank.”
So why shouldn’t L.A. flaunt its entertainment DNA? Surely, the Dodgers will be doing so as well starting in 2014 when its own TWC-supported channel is up and running and it can start persuading potential free agents of those local TV exposure benefits.
“Using Time Warner Cable as part of the Lakers’ recruiting pitch to Dwight Howard makes great sense to me,” said Jeff Fellenzer, whose Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism class on sports, business and the media in today’s society is one of the most popular in USC’s curriculum.
“The Lakers are smart to embrace one of their greatest and most marketable assets: the entertainment industry. Call it ‘access Hollywood.’ Courtside at Laker games can be as entertaining as the games themselves, and it’s because of the Hollywood crowd.
“Howard can’t help but see that, and including that element in the pitch will only serve to reinforce the notion to him of how deals get done in this town.”
Fellenzer senses that just as much as Howard understanding his value to the Lakers’ continue “Showtime” tradition, Time Warner Cable can also benefit from being the ones to chronicle all that, so it behooves them to get more proactive.
“Free-agent recruiting in professional sports is becoming more competitive and more creative, like college recruiting. Much like Oregon uses its access to Nike through Phil Knight to emphasize the ability to build a player’s personal brand, the Lakers can sell Howard on their ability to help take his brand to a level well beyond what most franchises can offer. He could be a larger-than-life superhero going forward, and he’s already on the biggest stage in the world.
“Nike has what it calls ‘gap separators’ — those assets within the company that help separate it from competitors. The presence of an entertainment element in the Lakers’ recruiting pitch to Dwight Howard is one of those potential gap separators that will help distinguish the Lakers from every other NBA suitor.”
Not everyone is sold on whether Howard can fill that kind of gap at this point.
Dr. Patrick Rishe, the director of Sports Impacts, a writer for Forbes on sports and a professor of economics at Webster University, said that “unless TWC can get (Lakers coach) Mike D’Antoni fired and replaced with someone who Dwight Howard can see as Dwight Howard’s guy, then I’m not sure just how much they can do.
“Then again, Dwight Howard is as fickle as they come. So maybe it wouldn’t be too hard for TWC execs to successfully sway him by selling the business/commercial side of the L.A. market for his career on and off the court.”