Poll: Fans Believe NBA Is Rigged

By Michael Bush
Updated: June 17, 2008

NEW YORK – David Stern, you have an image problem.

According to a new survey of 907 people released exclusively to Advertising Age Magazine last week, more than one-third (37%) of respondents believe that the NBA somewhat or very likely alters the outcomes of its games.

The YouGovPolimetrix Omnibus Poll found that among “casual” or “avid” fans, an even higher number, 41%, think it’s either very likely or somewhat likely that the NBA alters the outcome of games.

Couple that with the fact that only 46% of the poll was aware that an NBA referee was recently investigated by the FBI for receiving cash payments in return for passing inside information along to friends and gamblers, and it’s clear the NBA has a lot of cynicism to overcome.

Poll preceded Donaghy scandal

That’s especially true when taken together with the fact that the study was conducted on June 2-4, prior to disgraced referee Tim Donaghy’s allegations earlier this week that NBA executives and referees manipulated game results to boost ticket sales and TV ratings.

Even so, more than half (55%) of the general respondents and 47% of “avid” basketball fans, when asked if the relationships between officials and players/coaches affect the outcomes of games, responded “yes” or “lean towards thinking yes.”

News of Mr. Donaghy’s allegations this week generated a ton of bad press in the papers, on sports talk radio and on TV shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter and “Pardon the Interruption.”

And during Game Three of the NBA Finals, ABC, which is airing the games, spent nearly the entire halftime show talking about Mr. Donaghy’s claims.

Coincidentally, more than a quarter (26%) of the general population thinks the NBA played a role in the Lakers and Celtics reaching this year’s NBA Finals.

29% of all NBA Fans said the NBA had some role in the Lakers and Celtics reuniting in the finals for the first time in 21 years, while 47% of fans think the NBA either had some role in the championship match-up, or are unsure if the league played a role in the match-up.

Stern tarnished

It has long been thought that NBA Commissioner David Stern, in comparison to the commissioners of the other three majors, has best understood the benefits of good PR and developing a global positive brand image. Mr. Stern dismissed Mr. Donaghy’s allegations as baseless.

Ted Marzilli, senior VP-general manager of the brand group at YouGovPolimetrix, said that regardless of whether or not Mr. Donaghy was the only dirty official in the league, there’s a perception issue and the NBA has to admit that.

“Even if you don’t believe he is the most credible person, he is admitting to some wrongdoing and suggesting there’s a culture where this sort of behavior can take place,” Mr. Marzilli said.

“So even if there’s not truth to everything he is saying, I think enough people would probably say there’s enough there to lend some suspicion that some of what he is saying might be true.”

“The NBA has to take some action by implementing some rules and be visible about it,” he added. “Acknowledge there is the perception of an issue, that there may actually be an issue and that you are going to do everything you can to ensure there is a trust between fans and the NBA.”

The NBA didn’t respond before press time.