Why Fox Sports’ partnership with Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball league is such a big deal – For The Win
BIG3 is already going to prime time.
Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 basketball league announced Tuesday a broadcast partnership with Fox Sports, which will host the league throughout its summer schedule on FS1 on Monday nights and peak with the championship game live on Fox. Ice Cube broke the news on Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, the first in what is sure to be a long line of cross-promotion.
BIG3’s season opens Sunday, June 25 at Barclays Center, and the first broadcast airing will be the following day. The league, which will feature former NBA players in 3-on-3, half-court action, already has commitments from Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Jason Williams, Rashard Lewis, Kenyon Martin, Charles Oakley and more.
The hype’s been built, enough that Fox Sports jumped onto the bandwagon. And that’s a big deal for both BIG3 and Fox, for a few reasons, as For The Win discussed with BIG3 Commissioner Roger Mason Jr.
1. BIG3 shows its legitimacy right away.
This league hasn’t even announced its full schedule or given us much of a preview of what its games will look like, yet it already has a national TV deal. That’s the power of marketing, between the awesome logos, the player commitments and the social media presence.
“Any time you’re a first-year league, and you’re able to sign with a broadcast partner like Fox, I think it speaks volumes to the players we have and to what this product is going to be on the court,” Mason said.
Hall of Famer Rick Barry, a coach in BIG3, told FTW last month that he knew this was different than all the bizarre, quickly defunct leagues he’d participated in. The TV deal cements that.
2. FS1 needs this audience.
Fox Sports missed the boat on NBA rights when ESPN and Turner paid crazy amounts of money to keep the expanding competitor out. Now, they hope to get basketball fans to tune in. But that’s just the obvious component. The demographic likely will skew young and diverse, as the NBA’s does. And that’s where the cross-promotion comes in; if BIG3 takes off, that could lead its viewers into other FS1 programming.
“For me, when I was a kid, 6 or 7 years old, that’s when I knew every player and was at the height of being a fan,” Mason said. “As I got older and started playing, yeah, I knew the guys, but when I was young was when I really knew everything. Those 6- or 7-year-olds from 10 or 11 years ago, they’re 17 and 18 now. When they were younger, they were watching Iverson, they were watching Billups, they were watching a lot of the players that are in our league.”
3. Summer Monday nights needed this.
Basketball fans everywhere get the itch over the summer months. Sure, The Basketball Tournament has turned into a decent diversion, but its structure makes it difficult to keep track of the players and names involved, and its lack of a consistent TV presence is unwieldy. It’s a great promotion, but it’s more for the players than the fans to this point.
BIG3 went the opposite direction: Ice Cube built this league because he wanted to see it, as a fan. And anyone who gets sick of day after day of little more than baseball should be excited to at least see what BIG3 can offer on Monday nights. The fact that it’s not live action could be an impediment, but Mason sees it as a blessing, too.
“When we looked at, from a TV standpoint, Monday night prime time, sort of like what you have with Monday Night Football, we just thought the ability to have it on Mondays was just too good to pass up,” he said. “So we’ll have the live element for people that go to the arenas, but that Monday night slot that we have with Fox Sports is really a big deal for us.”
4. This makes BIG3 even more attractive to ex-players.
Mason said he had conversations with and interest from ESPN and Turner Sports for rights to BIG3. But Fox Sports could be a good fit for more than simply game programming.
Many of the players in this league already are either in or trying to get into the broadcast world, and Fox Sports’ channels offer a lot of programming opportunity and not as much competition in terms of NBA analysts and personalities. Furthermore, whereas any deal with Turner likely would have heavily involved NBA TV, this platform is a bit broader.
“We expect a great partnership,” Mason said. “Cube and (fellow league founder) Jeff Kwatinetz have been doing business with Fox and have some other shows on television, so there’s a relationship there. On the sports side, this game is going to be competitive. … We just think this is going to be a great deal for not only Fox Sports, but also for basketball fans who get to watch pros get back at it. Once people see these games, they’re going to be excited. And this is going to be the start of a lot of momentum for the BIG3.”
5. They better get this right.
FS1, with all of its recent shake-ups, needs a reason for viewers to find it on their dial.
BIG3 should be that, for a week. That first Monday night, with all the stars and promotion and the rest, should have enough hype to draw viewers who have never even watched FS1. But they’re not going to be loyal right away. How will FS1 handle the editing, to make it feel important even though the stakes are so vague and the action is pre-recorded? How will BIG3 handle its unique rules and player pool, so that play is clean and exciting? How will the players handle being competitive and entertaining and the same time?
In that sense, a deal with Turner would have been the safe route. But BIG3’s brief history hasn’t been about taking safe routes. This league isn’t even 6 months old and already has a national TV deal. Now everyone involved has to work to make sure this gamble pays off, for Fox Sports, BIG3 and all those hungry fans.