A few blogs ago, I mentioned how the NBA had successfully integrated the social media landscape to its brand and marketing campaigns. It was refreshing to see one of the major sports leagues being able to adapt to the modern economy. What I didn’t discuss was how social media and modern society is impacting the NBA and its players. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held last week and it’s a very popular conference discussing all of the new tech and data research taking place in professional sports.
One of the biggest stories to emerge from this conference, came from the Commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver. Silver was on one of the panels and mentioned the negative side of social media and modern times on players. Silver stated that a few players he had conversations with recently, seemed unhappy, depressed and isolated. The reference to unhappiness and mental health seemed to be about players having 24 hour access to all the negative comments from fans and the media. One of the downsides that social media and the internet brings with a global network and instant communication. The second part about isolation is that we all have access to modern music devices and players have to travel a lot. With all of this traveling, players are isolating themselves with headphones and their smart phones in the locker room and on long plane fights. Before modern tech, these times were used to build connections and comradery with teammates. Current NBA player Dirk Nowitzki, who is 40 years old, also gave credence to this theory of social isolation in the locker rooms. Nowitzki believed younger players were more concerned with their image online than they are about winning games.
Sports league are in a unique space, because the age demographics are so stark. The average age of an NBA player is mid to late 20’s but about 60-80 players under the age of 21 come into the league once a year. That means there are a small but significant amount of players entering the league, who will already be isolated because of their age restrictions. Secondly, they are of the social media generation. This means they will be isolated further by partaking in their usual social media habits and it may accelerate more with their limited access to friends and families while in-season. This isolation can also impact the rookie-veteran relationship that has been a generational staple for younger players learning how to adjust to life as a professional athlete. In college, no usage of tech devices before practice and games was an unspoken rule from my college basketball coaches. That was when the iPhone was only a couple years old. So I can only imagine the night and day difference of what things look like in today’s locker rooms. Going forward, the onus may be on coaching staffs to start implementing tech and social media restrictions in order to promote more team bonding.