LaVar Ball and the NBA: Attention arbitrage in an entertainment monoculture

On knowing your role; showbusiness; and entertainers who got to entertain

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Sports media and substance

Steve Kerr, Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors, recently bemoaned LaVar Ball’s shock-and-awe tactics — and the media’s willingness to cover them. Kerr had this to say:

Sport’s special place in society

Yes, from music to movies to sports, so much of pop culture has historically provided us more than just idle entertainment — it’s also provided us, well, culture. This sports stuff ages better than a vintage wine. As time passes, it becomes part of cultural mythology and history. In terms of historical significance, some of it is pari passu with anything anyone learns in a textbook or a classroom.

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Steve Kerr

Marginal growth and brand dilution

If you’re the NBA, you’re constantly asking yourself this:

‘What job do our fans hire us to do?’

Your answer is this:

‘Real, serial entertainment.’

That’s as quickly and pithily as you can describe it, but such generality is the proper calibration in this case, for reasons discussed below. For now, just note how crowded a space this genre of entertainment is — from YouTube stars to Snapchat/Instagram Stories to GoPro homebrews, etc. (After all, the rules of engagement are different in the modern era of media abundance, as opposed to the bygone era of scarcity.)

  1. Increase walletshare among its base (i.e. more of your preexisting audience’s money, time, and attention)
  1. If you’re increasing walletshare among your base, you’re by definition competing with other forms of entertainment that already have your core audience’s spend

No harm, no foul

Steve Kerr is a cog in that machine. ESPN and the media, who get lambasted for providing LaVar coverage, are cogs in that machine. They all benefit from the entertainment… and I really don’t see who’s worse off for it.

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