NBA schedule may be on the verge of a makeover if league restarts

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According to Adam Silver, the commissioner of the league, the National Basketball Association still hopes to be able to continue his season, including regular season games.

Silver, who spoke to reporters on a conference call following discussion by the NBA board last Friday, said the league had not considered canceling the rest of the year, because it seeks to recover part of its lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our revenues, in essence, have dropped to zero,” said Silver when called. “It has a huge financial impact on team activities and on arenas. “

Silver also hinted at changes to the league schedule, saying “all rules are off at this point” while confirming that the NBA would play “much later than in June” if the games were resumed.

This would mean delaying or canceling the remaining league events, which would not be too much of a surprise with the pandemic pausing all of the major sports leagues.

The biggest events that could change are the NBA Draft Combine, which was originally scheduled for next month in Chicago, and the Summer League in Las Vegas. Asked about updates regarding the decision of these events, the NBA did not immediately return a request for comment.

But if league owners are serious about resuming play without sacrificing games, postponing the start of the 2020-2021 regular season is almost inevitable. And if that happens, how does the league get back to its current 82 game format? And would players ever accept such a move?

“It could be a learning experience for future seasons where they choose to play fewer games,” said Neal Pilson, founder of the consulting firm Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports.

The idea of ​​Christmas

According to people familiar with the league discussions, the NBA planning committee, which includes several team general managers, has been pioneering the idea of ​​starting games around Christmas for some time.

The idea stems from a variety of factors, including coaches and players complaining about too many games in a week, lack of training time, first grades affected, and perhaps one of the most serious issues. most important afflictions of the NBA before the coronavirus pandemic: management burden and rest.

It is the concept of teams limiting players, especially those returning from injury, to a certain number of games played over an 82-game schedule. Coaches use the method of giving the stars more time to catch up, hoping that players will be ready for the most crucial stretch of the year, the playoffs.

The question of rest is profound for the NBA. In 1990, late commissioner David Stern fined the Los Angeles Lakers $ 25,000 for resting healthy stars. But since 2012, when Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $ 250,000 for resting players before a game against the Miami Heat, the problem has accelerated.

The NBA has adjusted its schedule to welcome teams, reducing the number of consecutive games and the number of games per week. But lately the league has gotten a shot while the teams are still relying on the players, which hurts the odds and the fans complain about not getting the full value when they expect to see players stars confront each other.

Understanding load management and the resting method is a problem for its business and multimedia partners. The NBA is now watching him more closely, imposing fines for teams not following rest guidelines.

In his speech at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin echoed what many NBA general managers have already mentioned. In essence, the idea of ​​starting games around Christmas is a more relevant time for the NBA, said Koonin.

Koonin, who the Hawks did not make available for an interview request, supports the “King Kong” – the National Football League – runaway approach, suggesting that a later start would help the odds.

“Several times at the start of the NBA season we are arguably arguing for Thursday night’s best football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee show, and we are overwhelmed and wondering why,” said Koonin , according to ESPN. “It’s because at the start of the season there is very little relevance to the NBA. “

Tony Ponturo is the CEO of Ponturo Management Group and has also served as Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of global sports and entertainment media marketing for 17 years. Ponturo agreed with the start of the NBA games around Christmas, saying that fan activity around the sport generally increased.

“The diehards will always be there,” said Ponturo. “But the most laid back fan would just arrive around Christmas Day. “

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Recovered recipes, improved product

The NBA has already discussed a tournament in season if the game can resume this summer, which Silver says requires more dialogue, but also said it would be implemented at some point.

An NBA executive said it was an opportunity to explore the concept for at least a year, in what could be arenas without spectators.

The executive, who spoke to CNBC on condition of autonomy because the individual is not allowed to speak, suggested opening a new season through a tournament at Christmas.

According to a senior league official, the NBA has explored the concepts of concluding final games in Las Vegas, as the tournament would emulate famous overseas basketball cups like the Copa del Rey in Spain.

In Las Vegas, the NBA already has integrated business relationships and could recover some of the revenue lost through sponsorships and play dollars associated with a tournament, said the executive, adding a proposed sponsorship slogan for the one- format. and-done.

“The NBA Cup, where every game is a game 7,” said the player.

And the broadcast partners would almost certainly have raised the prices of tournament advertisements, helping to recover the $ 800 million in lost revenue and the NBA games currently on hold.

Pilson added that the NBA field product should improve if the number of games decreases with a new start date. Teams would have more training opportunities and, most importantly, additional recovery time for players.

“The NBA is so solid in its schedule, that frankly, I don’t think [a reduction in games] would have a big impact anywhere, except that the players would have less fatigue, and you can say, would play in more games, “said Pilson, who is also a professor at Columbia University. You get a better product, and there is real value in that. ”

Would the players approve?

If the league were to approach the start of games around Christmas this year, it would have to negotiate with the National Basketball Players Association, which represents the players. With the current pandemic affecting the income of the league, its unlikely players would resist too much because they have every interest in agreeing to continue to be paid.

Player wages are tied to a percentage of NBA revenue via basketball-related revenue, so any drop in league revenue will also result in lower player wages and less agent commissions.

And speaking of money, there could be some setback when it comes to reformatting a schedule change and ending at the end of the summer.

One of the main concerns, according to various conversations with players and NBA agents, is that players are sacrificing part of their typical offseason, which is used to honor sponsorship and sponsorship agreements, as well as to organize camps. summer in disadvantaged communities.

But despite many hurdles, reformatting the regular season schedule has gained enough momentum in various NBA ridings, which may be the time to test its business model.

Former NBA goalkeeper Jay Williams, who is now an ESPN commentator, said rethinking the schedule would help “change the landscape” of a sport and a league approaching a new standard.

“Unless you’re a diehard basketball fan, we don’t pay attention to the NBA people [in October and November] unless there are crazy stories coming out, “Williams told CNBC. We don’t pay attention to basketball until Christmas Day; kick-off season for basketball, in my opinion. ”

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