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Icon, Association, and Earned! NBA Branding is out of control — Here’s how it affects you!

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What the heck is an “Association Edition”? And do the Blazers really deserve an “Earned Edition” after being swept in the playoffs?

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Team EF Education First Drapac powered by Cannondale, or TEFEFDpbC for short, is the official name of an actual professional cycling team right now.

The NBA hasn’t quite reached that level of #BRANDING absurdity (...yet?) but the league is inching uncomfortably in that direction. The unnecessary jargon incursion reached a head yesterday when the Trail Blazers announced the release dates for their new “Editions” (emphasis mine):

While the “Icon” (black), “Association” (white) and “Statement” (red) jerseys remain unchanged for the 2018-19 season, there are two other new editions that have not yet been released. So even though all the dates are set, Portland’s “Cityedition uniform and a fifth “Earned” uniform option (more on that in the next few weeks) have not yet been released.

That’s a stunning seven instances of corporate jargon in two sentences about freaking uniforms!

(Note: This is in no way an attack on any writer using corporate-speak in their articles. They are often obligated to do so by the institution’s style guide.)

Why is excessive #BRANDING a problem?

The NBA’s “branding” is a major pet peeve of mine because it makes sentences and ideas needlessly complex. Consider this alternative to the excerpt quoted above:

While the black, white, and red jerseys remain unchanged for the 2018-19 season, there are two new alternates which will be released later this season. One alternate will replace the black plaid from last year and a fifth uniform will be an entirely new design (more on that in a few weeks).

I would argue that my re-write is significantly simpler to follow. The uniforms are referred to by base colors rather than jargon-y corporate-speak and the second sentence is actually more descriptive despite being shorter in length.

Here’s another (fictional) example to drive the point home:

Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey announced that the Trail Blazers are calling up Wade Baldwin from the G League. He’ll make his first appearance tonight in the Moda Center against the HEAT — the Blazers will wear their Association Edition uniforms, complete with the team’s new Biofreeze jersey sponsor patch.

vs.:

General Manager Neil Olshey announced that the Blazers are calling up Wade Baldwin from the D League. He’ll make his first appearance tonight at home against the Heat — the Blazers will wear their white uniforms, complete with the team’s new Biofreeze ad.

A few differences:

The first passage is 277 characters long, but the second is only 213. That’s a 23 percent reduction in length with no difference whatsoever in quantity of information being presented. The rule of new media right now is that brevity is king — not because we are worried about column inches like print journalists, but because attention spans are supposedly getting shorter. While I’d argue there is still value in long form writing, it is downright foolish to unnecessarily bloat sentences with meaningless extra words. That strategy will lose readership over time.

The second example, despite being shorter, packs in more meaning. Examples:

  1. “White uniform” will be understood by everyone’s grandma — “Association Edition” not so much.
  2. D League indicates “developmental” cueing the reader that Baldwin was in the minor league. G League? Something about #FUEL for the busy athlete, I guess?
  3. I’m not even going to talk about POBO vs. GM.
  4. “HEAT” is not a typo in the first example. The professional basketball team in Miami is officially called the “HEAT” right now and not the “Heat.” Here’s a screenshot from nba.com earlier this morning as evidence:

Also, the Clippers don’t play in Los Angeles, they play in LA. And the Lakers don’t play in LA, they play in Los Angeles:

These needless stylizations, e.g. HEAT and LA vs. Los Angeles, are confusing and interrupt the reader’s flow within in article (“Hey! Heat is capitalized. Why did the editor miss that?”) decreasing readability. This is the antithetical to the goals of new media.

The NBA’s gotten to the point that the branding isn’t just intrusive, it’s downright confusing without extra context.

Social Scientists agree: Naming matters

Lastly, what we call things matters. Social scientists have long written about how naming can manipulate meaning, affect job prospects, and possibly influence perception. Corporate naming, such as referring to a uniform advertisements as a “patch”, often separates the consumer from the hyper-capitalist motives that drive many of these branding decisions.

Arguably, these naming practices normalize an “everything is for sale” mindset and play a role in shaping political discourse — questions such “Should federal land be sold?” could be influenced by a public perception that has been trained to see everything as for sale.

This might be forgivable if it resulted in lower ticket prices. I’d be much more willing to not roll my eyes at a jersey ad if season tickets were ten percent lower. But, as far as I know, there are no reliable data showing that to be the case and it’s safer to assume that the transaction is independent of ticket prices.

If you have reliable information on this last point I’d love to see it in the comments! Otherwise, I’m going back to watching TEFEFDpbC season highlights.