When Cade Cunningham is selected in tonight’s National Basketball Association Draft he won’t be celebrating the moment with photos on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. Instead the former Oklahoma State star and presumed top pick by the Detroit Pistons will be using Dispo, an upstart photo-sharing social media app that is trying to overcome links to a controversial founder.
Cunningham signed an exclusive deal with Los Angeles-based Dispo—short for disposable camera—in which he agreed to use the platform to capture all of his sentimental moments from draft night, which is one of the major cultural moments on the NBA calendar, especially for top picks. There is one catch: One of Dispo’s features is that, just like old-school cameras, images are not immediately available. So because Cunningham agreed to eschew other social media photo options, his followers will have to wait until Friday morning to see his behind-the-scenes shots.
Whether or not that gimmick helps drive more attention to Dispo remains to be seen. But what is clear is that Cunningham’s deal could give the app some much-needed positive press.
In recent months Dispo has been battered due to a sexual assault scandal that resulted in a co-founder of the start-up, David Dobrik, stepping down from his post on the board. His resignation came after Insider reported on allegations that Dobrik filmed a YouTube video showing a sexual encounter between a member of his crew and a woman after she was served alcohol.
Last month, Dispo announced a new branding direction including backing from NBA players Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, along with celebrities including Cara Delevigne and Sofia Vergara, with the intended goal of challenging platforms such as Instagram. Cunningham is one of those recent Dispo signees.
Cunningham, like most top draft picks, is set for a major endorsement windfall. ESPN this week reported on a multi-year footwear and apparel deal he signed with Nike that the outlet reported is the biggest deal among expected draftees.
In today’s media environment, athletes make the decisions on what they want to reveal to the public, especially as camera crews are restricted due to COVID precautions. In Cunningham's case, his decision to cut out any other social media platform from capturing one of the biggest nights of his budding career seems very intentional.
NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did something similar after the Milwaukee Bucks won the title. His Instagram Live had more than 280,000 viewers at one point as he wore goggles, blasted music in the locker room, and showed fans the Larry O'Brien trophy while chatting with his older brother. That was an audience that ABC or any other TV or streaming platform probably wanted—but reporters and camera crews were not allowed in the locker room due to COVID precautions.
These moves have shown how the power and control of athlete's stories lie in their hands and not with the broadcaster. "It speaks more to the fragmentation of the media marketplace in our current system," says Larry Mann, executive VP of Revolution, a sports branding and sponsorship agency. Mann says Cunningham and Antetokounmpo are taking control of their stories in these high spectacle moments.
He believes that eventually, athletes will begin to have significant stakes in social media platform start-ups, which will serve as the primary vehicle for peeks into their personal lives. "This is where we're headed," Mann said. "Content is king."