NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – in a wide-ranging discussion with Bill Simmons, at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this month – admitted that the 2019 NBA All-Star Game “didn’t work.” Silver acknowledged that the league’s solution to making the game more competitive/watchable – a player draft – simply “put an earring on a pig” and wondered if a pre-season tournament (in place of the current pre-season schedule) or mid-season tournament (think: English football, college basketball around Thanksgiving) would capture fan interests. The suggestion came about as part of a larger discussion pertaining to a shortening of the league schedule (from 82 to 70 games) and the subsequent theoretical need to offset revenue losses under that scenario.
Howie Long-Short: NBA All-Star Weekend is the league’s “showcase” event (see: host big $ sponsors), so one can understand why the Commissioner is determined to make the ASG more competitive. Terry Lyons, a 26-year veteran of the NBA league office (and current sports marketing/communications professional), explained “the NBA finals are much different than the NFL’s Super Bowl. They’re largely an event for the fans and season ticket holders of the home teams. The NBA uses the ASG much in the way the NFL uses their championship game – as a 3 or 4-day celebration of the sport.”
Terry is intrigued by the possibility of a “mid-season tournament” replacing the annual ASG and All-Star Saturday Night (think: 8 teams with a winners/losers bracket in a neutral location like Las Vegas, New Orleans or even London) and believes that a single elimination tournament “could potentially change the 2nd half fortunes of a team” (see: Knicks Gaming), but maintains that “the idea most logistically feasible is to run a lottery tournament at the end of the season, parallel to the playoffs.” Teams that fail to qualify for the playoffs would compete in a single-elimination tournament, with the winner earning the top seed in the draft; the runner up would get the 2nd pick, etc. It’s not difficult to envision fans, who would otherwise be gearing up for the NBA’s draft lottery selection show – a televised opening of envelopes, embracing games that would give their team a chance to “win” the top pick.
Those that support the idea of a mid-season tournament cite the success of The Champions League – both from a fan interest and revenue generation standpoint – but the Champions League consists of the top teams from various European leagues that would not otherwise compete against each other. I’m not convinced that the NBA can generate that same interest in a tournament without real stakes (remember, you won’t know who isn’t going to make the playoffs during the preseason or at midseason), when you consider that all 30 teams are already scheduled to play games against one other multiple times.
Over the last decade, the league has made a conscious effort to manage wear and tear on players, so the addition of any interleague tournaments would likely accompany a cut down on the number of regular season games. “Ultimately, the number of games might not change that much – just the order in which they’re played.” Don’t expect anything to happen before the end of the ’22-’23 season – the next time the league or players’ union can opt out of the CBA.
Fan Marino: The ONLY argument against shortening the NBA season is that neither the players nor the owners are willing to give up the revenue that would be lost by cutting 12 games from the schedule. I happen to believe that the league should cut the schedule down to 70 games – which would make each game more meaningful – and simply markup pricing on everything 10-15%. Terry says that’s a risky proposition. Raising the cost of attendance “might push the price past buyers’ breaking points.” He added “with labor peace and such a positive vibe between league and players, I’m not sure I’d mess with the success the NBA is currently enjoying.”
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