Adam Silver has seen the numbers: Traditional television viewership is down early this season across the board, continuing a trend, and there is already a “load management” discussion around the league because players are already getting rest nights off.
Silver’s plan: Shorten the NBA season by a few games and add a mid-season tournament between Thanksgiving and Christmas to add importance and interest to those games.
So far, those parts of Silver’s plan are meeting with skepticism. Start with this Tweet from Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who hints he may be okay at 78 games but not fewer.
IMHO, Key reason I'm not for a <78 gm schedule: in a very competitive OTT environment, our potential customer's greatest challenges are cust acq and retention. Longer season/yr round NBA programming =more sign ups, less reason to churn, more value https://t.co/0z6mGMRCEP
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) November 25, 2019
Shortening the NBA season has always been about the money. The math on player injuries and the early season fan apathy may point to fewer games, but from a business perspective — and that of the league’s broadcast partners — it was always going to be a tough sell. Even if it’s just four games, as proposed.
“I think it certainly, of all the big proposals, the one that has been met with the most skepticism from teams. It centers around ‘Is anyone going to care about this? Are we, teams, going to care about this?’
“I get that. What is in it for them and the NBA, as you said, is counting on the organic momentum of this as long as it sticks around for long enough, it will sort of by default come to mean something. I guess that can be true? I actually sort of believe in that kind of organic momentum for events and things like that.”
These kinds of mid-season tournaments are baked into the DNA of European (and worldwide) soccer in a way that is foreign to an American audience. During that window in the American sports calendar, most sports fans — casual and otherwise — are more focused on NFL and college football, and it’s going to be challenging to break through.
It’s hard to see most sports fans caring that much, even if this event sticks around for five years or whatever. It’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to hang “Mid-Season Tournament Champions” banners up, and I’m not even sure teams starved for things to put in the rafters would do it.
In the eyes of fans, would winning this tournament ever really amount to more than winning the Maui Invitational in NCAA hoops?
Some of Silver’s proposals — such as re-seeding the conference finals — might be more likely to gain acceptance (although some Eastern Conference owners may be hesitant).
But the sweeping changes are going to be a tough sell.