Imagine if high school basketball games involving elite hoops recruits around the country were put on the Duke Basketball Network, coming to you nightly from December to March on your local cable package (and no, this post isn’t a not-so-subtle shot at ESPN). After the initial uproars from Lexington, Chapel Hill, Lawrence and other basketball hotbeds subsided, imagine then that Mike Krzyzewski, as spokesperson and progenitor of the DBN, gave an interview where he said:
We do not want to use it as a recruiting advantage. We don’t want it tied to [Duke. The DBN carrier] knows we don’t want to violate any NCAA rules and they don’t want to. [...] We want to play by the rules. We want everything to be in the open with integrity.
To back up his claims, imaginary Coach K added that the DBN would not be involved in selecting the games and that the word “Duke” would not be attached to the broadcast in any way (you know, except for the fact that you have to tune into the Duke Basketball Network to see the game in the first place). Would you believe it? Isn’t he asking you to undergo a considerable afternoon of mental calisthenics in order to believe there’s absolutely no association between those two things — the players shown and the school’s network?
It’s patently absurd. People make such associations without even thinking, and a removal of some of the associated branding does next to nothing to remove that perception. Will a kid playing on the DBN tomorrow night tell all his friends that he’s playing on Dish Network channel 146 instead? Will fans around the country not automatically assume that a player on their screen has already committed to play for Duke (after all, why would the DBN be showing it?). Of course not. It’s a huge marketing (and, by proxy, recruiting) advantage.