The NBA commissioner participates in an annual conference call with NBA beat writers prior to the start of each season. In last Thursday’s call, Stern addressed several topics key to the league, including the new dress code. Q: Who is responsible for reporting infractions on the dress code and are you looking more at spirit or the letter of the dress code as far as enforcement?
Stern: The teams are responsible for the enforcement of the dress code and looking for the spirit of the dress code. We don’t have a dress code police. Obviously, if a player is on the bench, everyone is going to see and there is no secret there. Of all the things that are going to come to our attention, hopefully it will be spirit more than anything else.
Q: The league has embraced the hip-hop image of its players for quite a while; at what point did you feel a dress code was essential?
Stern: I don’t think that those are necessarily inconsistent. The dress code has to do with what you do when you are on business and what uniform is appropriate on the business of the NBA. With respect to what players do on their own time, we are not making any judgment and we are happy to have them express themselves however they would like as a matter of their clothing. We’ve always had dress codes; usually it has been a team matter. Actually, five of our teams have jacket and tie requirements. In the course of collective bargaining, and in meetings with coaches and owners and in discussions with the union, it became clear to us that rather than have it on a team by team basis we should have it on a league-wide basis. Actually, what we did was step it down on the jacket and tie to a collar on a shirt, a pair of pants and a pair of shoes, which we didn’t think that was quite as remarkable as some made it out to be. Hip-hop is a style, but some of my owners like Jay-Z, Nelly and Usher are hip-hop, but they dress in a different fashion. Hip-hop doesn’t mean sloppy.
Q: Attendance ratings were up last season, but TV ratings were down. Which one is more important to you?
Stern: All TV ratings are going to go down. But we would like very much to keep them as high as they can be. But they are always going to decline. I don’t want to say that they’re not important, because they are important. But I must say that conventional wisdom a few years back was that season ticket sales could only go down based upon cost and the people’s time being so valuable. And the reality is that, as we reported to our owners, our season ticket renewals are high, up over last year, and our season tickets will be up. So our teams are doing a great job on the one hand, but our fans are interested. So we are going to have another record season for attendance. And on TV ratings, I think that we’re all going to be using a different methodology for determining relevance to our fan base. It is going to wind up including Web sites, not just league Web sites, but Web sites like ESPN and CBS Sportsline and Yahoo and all those sports sites, together with video-on-demand offerings, together with wireless offerings, together with blogs, together with video games. The changes with respect to the consumption of sports are as varied as every new technological development. I think that the established ones will decline but the new ones will rise and we will be able to decide what the proper measurement device is.