NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks ahead of the Miami Heat game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game of the 2020 NBA Finals as part of the 2020 NBA restart on September 30, 2020 at the AdventHealth Arena of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Media in Orlando, Florida.
Garrett Ellwood | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
It's still early, but the National Basketball Association could disguise a Christmas present with their shortened schedule of 72 games for the 2020-21 season.
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed to return on December 22, weeks after the Covid-19 bubble postseason is over. And with the short turnaround, the two teams have removed 10 games from their regular 82-game schedule as the league wants to get back on track for the 2021-22 season.
With its return in December, the NBA plans to raise an additional $ 500 million in revenue to secure their Christmas Day games, which are huge for their media partners in ESPN and Turner Sports.
Sports experts said another cut season allows the NBA to monitor how 10 fewer games could help their product, especially in a new age of consumer habits and content congestion.
"I would argue, with a leap in confidence, that we'll never see 82 again," said Tony Ponturo, CEO of Ponturo Management Group, a marketing consultancy.
"It's getting better across the board for high-quality basketball players and healthier athletes," added Ponturo, who served as Anheuser-Busch's vice president of global media sports and entertainment marketing. "You take the [sales] hit and find out how you can make up for it in other ways."
Something in between?
During the bubble on Disney's Orlando campus, Byron Spruell, the NBA president for operations, hinted that the league would be open to changes to their schedule, especially when officials realized it would lead to better quality play.
Spruell suggested that the NBA would further research their play-in games and incorporate the schedules of Major League Baseball-like series. The thinking is that less travel for the players will keep them healthier and result in higher quality and more competitive games.
"Having this experience on a campus where health and safety is paramount – there are many insights to ponder," he told CNBC in an August interview.
"Is there something in between where the pandemic could take place next season, given the experience we have of our teams and players on this campus," Spruell said. "Is there something in between that we can achieve as well?"
The answer is yes.
For years, the NBA has battled teams that have players resting. Hence, reducing travel and using MLB-style schedules could help combat the problem. A 72-game model could also help teams with practice time so that new rosters can get to know the coaching systems better.
The networks will be fine
Media rights make up a large chunk of NBA sales, but network partners shouldn't be affected by a 72-game model.
ESPN and Turner will continue to receive their share of Star Games. At the local level, an NBA manager pointed out that regional broadcast partners are typically not guaranteed 82 games due to the national exclusivity of certain NBA games.
And ratings could see a slump as the NBA could kick off for preseason games in early December and debut on Christmas Day, an idea that has been circulating by league executives for years. Turner would benefit as Thursday night NBA games would avoid direct competition with the National Football League when the NBA kicks off in December.
Ponturo said, "Unless you're a die-hard fan of an in-market team, most of the other fans, the causal NBA fans, probably won't focus on the NBA until Christmas. They have college football; they have NFL."
Robert Covington # 33 of the Houston Rockets drives in the first half for Harrison Barnes # 40 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half at HP Field House at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 9, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Ashley Landis | Pool | Getty Images
Aside from the quality of the game, the NBA owners take care of the revenue and subtract 10 matchday cash streams that the league has identified as 40% of the income needs to be replaced. In a report by network partner ESPN, the league claims it could lose $ 4 billion in the next season without fans or ticket revenue.
However, with fewer games, owners would save on operating costs and justify rising ticket prices, which could create scarcity demand as less popular teams would visit cities with a shorter season each year.
And if play-in games are included, these additional competitions would generate revenue too.
Team presidents also anticipate jersey patches will increase in value with international opportunities, and there are rumors that the NBA will ease sponsorship restrictions to help teams recover from Covid-19 losses.
Len Elmore, professor of sports management at Columbia University, warned that the additional sources of income "are speculation about whether they [teams] can get it right through these different channels," he said.
But Elmore, who also played 10 seasons in the NBA, agreed that the league should investigate 72 games to "see what it does for the quality of the game," he said. "That [improved quality] will lead to other revenue opportunities."
Ponturo added, "You need to look at the quality of your sport as well as the revenue generation. When the players get healthier and no stars are seated, the games can be distributed." I don't play in a row – it will be better quality I think that might be a blessing in disguise in a strange way. "
At a time when MLB and NFL are adding games, the NBA may be better placed to use addition by subtraction in their regular season.
"I would imagine that everything for innovation and improvement is on the table," added Elmore. "That's the only thing that should bring a crisis like this – a thought about how to prepare for such cases, how to change, and how to improve. I'm pretty sure NBA decision-makers are taking this opportunity to to do that." The."