Sure, the Golden State Warriors just landed one of the top free agents in NBA history and will now enter the 2016/2017 season as prohibitive favorites to take back the championship crown from LeBron.
But the behind–the-scenes winner in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes was “owned media.”
Eschewing the conventional news release and press conference, Durant communicated his decision through The Players’ Tribune. Started by Derek Jeter after he was done manning shortstop for the Yankees, The Players’ Tribune offers a platform for professional athletes to take their stories and perspectives directly to the target audience without that pesky filter known as sports journalists.
One might make an argument that The Players’ Tribune straddles owned media and third-party media since Kevin Durant does not technically own the platform. Yet, when you take into account that Durant controlled every vowel and consonant that went into his story before it was flung to the outside world, that’s the true definition of owned media.
Why did Durant’s branding brain trust choose owned media over a New York City press conference with the requisite hoopla?
We’re back to the “C” word — control.
Owned media enabled Durant to completely control the narrative at the start of the news cycle. No doubt, this was a critical consideration for Team Durant. Anticipating there would be hurt feelings among the OKC faithful — hell hath no fury like a sports fan scorned — owned media gave Durant a safe forum to share his own feelings and diffuse the emotional fallout.
In fact, his entire essay is more of an ode to OKC than looking to his future with the Golden State Warriors, underpinned by this passage:
“I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me. It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man. There are no words to express what the organization and the community mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever. The memories and friendships are something that go far beyond the game. Those invaluable relationships are what made this deliberation so challenging.”
There’s no way the “I will always love OKC” angle was going to fly as the primary story line with sports journalists. Yet, that’s the message that carried the early stage of the news cycle by taking the owned media route and not making Durant available for interviews.
Regarding this last point, we kept hearing that since the NBA free-agent season kicked off on July 1 (Friday) Durant didn’t want the process to drag out and intended to make his decision Monday. While that may have been true, an expedited decision served the interests of Team Durant. After all, you can’t blame a guy for not being available for interviews on July 4 when he’s with the family cooking hot dogs on the Weber.
While The Players’ Tribune essay lacks Durant’s voice, I do think the content is a swish. It anticipates reaction from the fan base and again takes a shot at diffusing the issue:
“It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career.”
If owned media is the winner, is there a loser?
It seems fair to say Durant’s approach marginalizes journalists. Thanks to owned media, he communicated his story on his own terms. Yet, he still benefited from the reach of third-party media who covered the story with the same frenzy as any major breaking news. They just had to cover it without access to Durant himself.
With that said, I’m guessing Kevin shows up in person for the Day 2 stories. The 351 words on The Players’ Tribune were only meant to drive the news cycle for the first 24 hours.
My closing take —
The PR and overall communications from Team Durant was pretty darn shrewd.