By Marc Tracy

Source: The New York Times

The tweets of Pau Gasol, an N.B.A. center, used to ricochet between the email inboxes of Alan Yang, a co-creator of the Netflix show “Master of None,” and Chelsea Peretti, a comedian and cast regular of Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

“Every one ended in an exclamation point and expressed his enthusiasm andcuriosity for life,” Yang said. (A recent tweet by Gasol contained a photo of him shirtless and reading a book by a pond, declaring, “Finding wonderful places to read!”)

Yang and Peretti knew what made good entertainment, and they saw it in the N.B.A.

“I work in television, and TV is a character-based medium,” said Yang, who in the 2000s wrote pseudonymously for a baseball site called Fire Joe Morgan. “People care about these characters, and root for and against them.”

People generally and, perhaps more important, that coveted demographic known as millennials.

The N.F.L. has experienced stagnant ratings, and Major League Baseball has increasingly become a group of powerful but geographically limited fiefs. The most commonly blamed culprit is the generation of digitally savvy but distracted millennials — whoever they are and however one defines them.

 

“If something isn’t interesting, whether it’s a show at 8 o’clock or an N.F.L. game oran N.B.A. game, the choices to cure boredom are greater than they’ve ever been,”said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG Research.

But the N.B.A. is managing to keep fans tuned in. It is staging a highly anticipated N.B.A. finals, so far the most watched since Michael Jordan’s last, in 1998, with several of the most resonant players in the world; recently began a nine-year, $24 billion broadcast television deal; and experienced its highest attendance ever for the third consecutive year. Its franchise values have skyrocketed beyond the rate of growth in the N.F.L. or Major League Baseball, according to David M. Carter, who directs the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.

The N.B.A. seems to have hit upon a solution to a problem that is vexing sports officials everywhere: how to get young people to pay attention. It has done this by becoming no longer merely a league of winning and losing, but a place for latching on to players and teams, often for reasons having nothing to do with their on-court play — like, tweets that develop a public-facing personality.

Drawing on not only the games themselves but also social media, off-court news, advertising and even politics, the league combines the melodrama of soap operas, the intimate access (whether real or contrived) of reality television and the personalized whimsy of fan fiction.

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