The two-year marketing deal means that uniformed NBA and MLB players will be shown in Budweiser ads, which will feature athletes talking to the camera and game footage. The NBA players association took control of sponsorship negotiations involving collective image rights last year and has since become more bullish in making sponsorship deals.
After being the first woman to lead the United States Air Force Academy, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson has spent the past year helping to lead a new force — NBA referees. Johnson, a former Air Force basketball player, directs the NBA’s officiating program including the recruitment, training, development and evaluation of all referees while reporting to President, League Operations Byron Spruell. The Iowa native also oversees the NBA Replay Center.
On the relationship between players and referees: “Really, the tension wasn’t quite as much as the lens of media made it out to be, but what’s happening more and more is the league and the players and the coaches are just trying to share a common understanding of the rules and understand each other better. There’s a dimension of accuracy that’s really important that’s the foundation of the way we work, but the refs are excellent, not perfect is what we say. The other dimension of it is intangible, communication, eye contact, teamwork. How do you explain the call in terms of rules. We’re working on being analytical about qualitative things like leadership and communication even while we’re also analytical about peer accuracy and then trying to …”
Last season you saw some stars get thrown out of games and there was a lot made of the relationship between the players and the refs. Going into this next season, where do you feel like they are now? “Well, we appreciated talking with the teams last year. We’re going to continue that, but not in such a compressed time that we had last year. But also, we have this Officiating Advisory Council where we have players, coaches, broadcasters come in and we talk about better understanding and where are we coming from with this and making sure the coaches take advantage of the feedback they have, the coaches make after postgame comments. We get feedback from the teams mid-year and end of the year on the officials’ performances, so we’re having a greater emphasis on this sense of let’s be mindful of it and realize in the heat of battle the people want a competitive advantage and the refs are just going to have to be as fair as ever and try to communicate it even better. There’s too much scrutiny now to not do that.”