For years, casual basketball fans have suggested, typically with no small amount of derision, that you don’t really need to turn on an NBA game until the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Now, in a bit of entrepreneurial jiu-jitsu, the NBA’s trying to turn that sentiment into a new revenue stream, offering the chance for fans to buy streaming access to crunch time of a live game for two bucks.
When the 2018-19 NBA season opens up on Oct. 16, “fans will have the ability to purchase a single game on NBA League Pass from the end of the third quarter to the conclusion of the game for $1.99,” the NBA announced on Thursday. The NBA has been offering single-game League Pass purchases for $6.99 for four seasons, but this represents the league’s first foray into slicing and dicing its packaging to allow fans to buy segments of games at reduced rates. The league also announced plans to expand the options — buying the final three quarters of a game, say, or just the first or second halves, at lower prices — “starting in early December.”
The NBA began taking steps down this path back in March, test-driving a push notification to subscribers to the league’s official app offering them to chance to check out the fourth quarter of a game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder — a competitive contest between two playoff squads happening away from the bright lights of national TV — without a full-scale subscription to the League Pass service:
— Vasu Kulkarni (@Vasu) March 24, 2018
Four days after floating that test balloon, the NBA announced that, in 2018-19, it would begin allowing fans “to purchase and watch live NBA games in-progress at a reduced price” through the NBA app, NBA.com and Turner Sports’ Bleacher Report Live app.
The idea, broadly: after providing diehards the chance to lock into full-season or month-by-month League Pass options that allow them to watch the out-of-market games for all 30 teams or just a chosen few, the NBA wanted to plant a flag in the streaming space that might help nudge more casual fans, or those who caught wind of a record-setting individual performance or thrilling comeback on social media, to pony up to see the #LeaguePassAlert moment they’re missing.
It’s a bet that a generation of fans that has grown comfortable with in-game/in-app/in-browser micro-transactions as a matter of course will be willing to plunk down a couple of bucks for a taste of game action straight from the league’s tap.
“The new micro-transaction offerings on League Pass will deliver more customized experiences to meet the needs of NBA fans,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in the league’s Thursday statement. “Instead of waiting to watch highlights after a game, fans will be able to enjoy a portion of a game in real-time.”
The move represents the extension of an idea Silver’s been considering for more than a year, one he discussed during an appearance on a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2017:
“Certainly we’re going from a place where it was one price for an entire season of games,” Silver said, referring to NBA LEAGUE PASS. “Now just in the last two years, we’ve made single games available. But I think you’re going to get to the point where somebody wants to watch the last five minutes of the game, and they go click, they’ll pay a set price for five minutes as opposed to what they would pay for two hours of the game. So I think you’re going to take the same great content, and you’re just going to make it that much more available to people who want it.”
Including, as ESPN’s Darren Rovell notes, a segment of interested observers to whom the NBA and other major American sports leagues are beginning to take steps to cater in a much larger way these days:
Not only will fans who have plans want to potentially purchase pieces of games, so too might gamblers, Silver acknowledged. For example, a bettor wants to see if his first-half spread covers.
Whether there’s a significant appetite for this service — especially among a cohort of digital-native fans that’s already getting those real-time highlights through a wide array of social media channels (including the league’s own) and that’s likely equally comfortable with/adept at seeking out an illegal stream of the game everyone’s talking about — remains to be seen.
But if the NBA can take a bite out of that market, well, that only expands its reach and puts more change in its pocket in the process; the overarching goal, as Turner president David Levy said in the league’s announcement, is to “drive consumption across all platforms.” That means leaving no stone unturned, no potential revenue stream left unexplored, and no portion of a game un-chopped and reheated to serve any fan struck by the fear of missing out.
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