When the BIG3 tips off its fourth season in June, it will be playing a new sport: FIREBALL3. The league announced it will rebrand its game to avoid confusion with the “typical 3-on-3 FIBA game coming to the Olympics.” The 2020 season will also bring a series of rule changes – all designed to improve the on-court product – to the upstart league. The BIG3 will lower its minimum age limit (from 27 to 22), eliminate a bylaw requiring that players have professional basketball experience and implement coaches challenges on foul calls that will settled with 1×1 possessions.
Howie Long-Short: BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz says that giving the FIREBALL3 name to the underlying sport is acknowledgement that what his league plays “is a different game than 3×3 [Olympic style] basketball; the same way that football and rugby are different games [and thus have different names].” The league believes promoting the differentiation is critical to its long-term success. “There’s a reason FIBA style 3×3 hasn’t become a professional sport in 70 years (editor note: founded in 1950) – it’s boring.”
Former NBA players are likely to continue to make up the majority of BIG3 rosters, but there is a belief that requiring players have professional experience could be costing the league valuable contributors. “Half the tight-ends in the NFL could probably dominate our sport just based on the nature of their skill-set and the fact that many of them were [high school and/or college] basketball stars.” While lowering the age limit should improve the talent within the BIG3 player pool, there is also hope the change will help to eliminate the notion that the league is a destination for retired players.
On-court product aside, Kwatinetz believes that his league has been able to survive three seasons because they “understand 18-34 year old culture (reminder: his partner is Ice Cube). There are a lot things about how BIG3 is organized that feeds into what [that demographic] likes. We encourage our players to exhibit personality and we empower them. Fans today want to know that the players they are rooting for are being treated right.” The league co-founder says that the BIG3’s mental health and CBD policies are indicative of an organization that respects its players. “The value systems of millennials and Gen-Z are different [than prior generations. People that age] want to know that the things they support are being done with ethics in mind.” Including players in the decision making process has enabled the league to “get it right” more often than not.
Many BIG3 players are retired NBA stars. While some undoubtedly see the league as an opportunity to continue their professional careers (see: earn a paycheck), it reasons to believe that at least a portion of those participating are doing so simply because they’re having fun. Kwatinetz says it’s been the league’s ability to showcase that joy that’s drawn fans in. “When Golden State first became popular, Klay and Steph were having so much fun. Warriors games became a must watch – or must attend – because people wanted to be a part of that. That’s what we’re trying to recreate.” The league is working to establish a festival atmosphere at each tour stop.
Fan Marino: The BIG3 is currently negotiating with the CBS to have 25 hours of action – all on the main network, all on Saturdays – during the 2020 season. That would be a significant change from the first three seasons when the league’s games aired on multiple networks and on different days of the week. Kwatinetz thinks that “the consistency gained would lead to an uptick in viewership. Fans would be able to plan around [the games] and know when and where to expect them.”
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