The Ultimate Assist: The Relationship and Broadcast Strategies of the NBA and Television Networks

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The Ultimate Assist: The Relationship and Broadcast Strategies of the NBA and Television Networks. John A. Fortunato. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2001. 258 pp. $59.50 hbk. $24.95 pbk.

Is it possible that Michael Jordan was not singularly responsible for the tremendous growth and popularity of the NBA during the 1990s?

In a highly detailed account of the growth of the National Basketball Association during the last two decades, John Fortunato, an assistant professor at St. Peter's College in New Jersey, contends that the NBA's success has been due in large part to its communication strategies-namely, its partnerships with the broadcast networks and its skillful "exposure and framing" of the game itself. While giving NBA stars "MJ," Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird their due, Fortunato attempts to demonstrate that more was at work in the league's success than the game itself and its stars.

Specifically, Fortunato argues that by working in close cooperation with its network partners, the NBA has been a masterful agenda setter and its fans, in turn, have become avid and loyal users of such entertainment. Thus, the NBA strategy is "fundamentally a communication strategy that can be explained through an integrative approach," meaning that combined, both the agenda setting and audience uses and gratifications models helped to produce the league's successes in the 1990s.

Fortunato traces how as an agenda setter, the NBA has managed the exposure of its games on television, adopting a "less is more" strategy in the 1980s by limiting the number of broadcasted games and airing such games at opportune times, creating a new demand for the game. Fortunato also examines how the NBA has influenced portrayal of the game by changing camera placements, personalizing the players, and creating storylines for each game in partnership with the NBA's network partner. (Until recently, that network partner was NBC.)

According to Fortunato, the "exposure framing idea has been successful in telling people what to think about; the portrayal framing idea has been successful in telling people how to think about it." He also details the league's extensive public relations and marketing approaches. From facilitating media access to players and coaches to marketing NBA merchandise and recruiting sponsors, the league since the early 1980s has been tremendously successful at tying together its PR and marketing functions. …