Fan Frenzy: Balancing Access and Security

The new NBA season began last night. All eyes were on Boston as the Celtics hosted the Miami Heat and its much ballyhooed trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The league is riding a huge wave of fan interest following an exciting 7-game finals series between the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers as well as a free agency period that was dominated by the question of where James would play this season. The excitement surrounding the NBA today reminds me of a period in the 1980s when Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson were the faces of the league. Great basketball was the brand story, not boorish behavior on the court or illegal behavior off the court.

Amid all of the hype of the new NBA season, I read a quote from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra in USA Today that caught my attention. Talking about extra security in place at the team’s hotel, Spoelstra said “I liked it. There was more security and more barricades so fans couldn’t get close to us, rather than in years past where they could walk right up to you.” These comments should not necessarily be taken at face value. It is understandable that security and player safety is important. After all, these athletes have a job to do and the stakes are high.

A cynical view of Spoelstra’s comments, though, would suggest that fans can be an irritant or unwanted distraction for NBA players. Did he mean he wants to keep NBA fans away? Sure, there are people whose desire to hang around the pro sports scene borders an unhealthy obsession, and then there are memorabilia dealers who show up with armloads of cards, balls, and other items looking for autographs that they can then sell for a quick buck. But, most fans simply want a glimpse of their favorite team or players, maybe a quick photo, and a chance to express their admiration.

The Miami Heat’s situation is unique in that the team features three superstars and has built a media frenzy around them. The Heat does need extra consideration when it comes to protecting players from a crush of fans that could pop up anywhere the team is playing. The risk is becoming too isolated from customers who care about you most. Social media is one solution to this dilemma as it gives fans access to players’ thoughts and daily lives… but at arm’s length.

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