NBA removes player images from TV, web

Since the NBA locked out its players earlier this month, news of the labor dispute has dominated NBA.com and official team websites. But one crucial thing has gone missing: the players themselves, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The league removed all images and videos of current players from its digital properties and its television network, NBA TV, after the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired at the start of the month.

Popular video replays showing top players such as Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin have been replaced with archival footage of NBA games, photos of retired players and intense news coverage of the lockout. On individual NBA team websites, generic team logos have taken the place of player head shots.

The changes are among the first effects of the lockout on the league, and they may put the NBA’s digital properties and television network into a precarious position.

Advertising on those sites is based on page views, which are liable to decline if the sites do not feature images of players.

"We do not think it is appropriate to be using video and photography of our current players at this time," said NBA spokesman Mike Bass.

People close to the NBA say that the league does not believe it should continue profiting off players by using their images online after locking them out over issues of compensation and revenue sharing.

The revenue NBA.com takes in from advertising is small compared with the roughly $1 billion the league’s TV-distribution partners make in advertising revenue each year, according to industry analysts, but it has grown significantly in recent years.

In 2010, NBA.com took in nearly $22 million in advertising revenue, according to estimates provided by Barclays Capital. It is an 88 percent increase from a year earlier, when NBA.com produced $11.7 million in ad revenue. In 2008, it took in $6.2 million.

NBA.com has not seen any immediate loss in sponsorships for the coming season, according to a person familiar with the site’s deal structures. The person added the site was proceeding with deals for next season but "incorporating more flexible options for our advertisers during this time."