It took way too long for this to happen.
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The NBA is all about expanding its brand, or whatever. Creating exposure. Mining different markets. Exploring new revenue streams. Also, sometimes, basketball.
Why it took so long to offer a la carte, single-game League Pass options is beyond our level of comprehension, but here we are. Starting in 2015-16, the league will allow fans to buy either the full League Pass package as usual, but also a single-team package or one game at a time as the season moves along.
The league announced plans for the move in June, and on Wednesday the NBA announced the pricing. The full package will cost you $199, same as it did last season for new customers. A single-team pass goes for $120, and the single-game feature will set you back $6.99 every time out.
That sounds like … that sounds like a lot.
It’s a tricky balance, because one runs the risk of sounding like an insufferable kvetch-monster when discussing these sorts of things. Especially when comparing that seven bucks to other things that make you happy. If you want to buy the cheapest hot dog available in an NBA stadium, you better have a $10 bill ready, and too often you better have a Jackson out.
If you’re a Chicago Bulls fan that lives in Montana, however, you can stream a single game in high-definition all the way to your living room for just seven bucks, as the NBA navigates all manner of local and national rights fees in order to bring you a game. It takes dozens of people to put a telecast on, and local advertisers aren’t swayed by the extended exposure: Binny’s Beverage Depot doesn’t really care that some dude from Montana is now aware of their wine specials. The guy from Montana can find his own Hyundai in his own state so there's no need to shout, Bob Rohrman.
It costs a lot of money to broadcast an NBA game, and in an era where you can go on YouTube in an instant to listen to an album it used to take you five fanzine reads and six dubbed copies of a tape for you to get, we are spoiled. Yes, I did have to walk to school in the snow as a kid. Why do you ask?
Still, is this the best pricing plan the NBA can give its fans? Or, more importantly, its potential fans?
For years, NBAniks have been singing the praises of League Pass. Whether we’re talking the 2000-01 Clippers, the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns, or watching weirdly playoff-foreboding local games while everyone else is over at CBS watching Adam Morrison cry, it’s an obsession. For a couple of years there, broke and in my early 20s, League Pass and a pair of rabbit ears were the only “package” I had. My dish provider probably thought it was really weird that, between April and November, this dude only had NBA TV to watch.
The point here is to not only entertain, but to bring in new fans. Not just the fans that would eagerly snap up that borderline-storied Hawks/Warriors matchup from last winter (which wasn’t even the best League Pass game of the night; same as was the case on the night Kobe dropped 81 on League Pass-only), but fans that might get bored with options after putting the kids to bed, and decide that they want to see what a “Dante Exum” looks like. Especially in the years since the 1998-99 lockout, when the NBA stopped mandating that each NBA team get at least one national TV appearance per year.
Seven bucks for a game and, especially, $120 for a team’s season might seem like reasonable prices once you explain away all that needs to go into bringing the content into your house, but it’s still going to be a tough sell for the “Ramen + Sriracha, three meals a day”-crew of early 20-somethings that will make up the NBA’s next great fan base.
That’s an entire generation that has never paid for a newspaper, a generation that was downloading songs off of Napster in fourth grade before hitting up YouTube in junior high. They know how to get stuff for free and, especially considering League Pass’ rather iffy broadband setup, they’ll need persuasion that goes further than, “man, Emmanuel Mudiay looked amazing in Summer League.”
With the $6.99 single game pricing, it almost feels as if the league is guaranteeing that fans will only buy two or three games a year. That’s only $21 bucks all season, just the cost of fried dumplings and a half-order entrée pre-tip, but this is often how consumers think when comparing package rates. Especially watchers that aren’t fans of a specific team, and aren’t big enough fans to shell out $199 so that they can see Anthony Davis but also Jodie Meeks.
(The next step, by the way, is a nightly option. So viewers can spend a flat figure to get each of that night’s games. You’re going to have to stretch and hydrate full before taking in Wednesday night, sports fans.)
This is still a move in the right direction, though. If the NBA can work up a more pliable starter pricing plan and work out the online kinks – either for fans trying to watch live without interruption, or us hacks re-watching something for a column the next morning – this can work out. Why it took the forward-thinking NBA – who offered a la carte game selection for a small fee for audio-only feeds on RealPlayer all the way back in 1997 (again, I am a giant dork) – this long to offer this service is beyond me.
Still, the NBA is the first major American pro sports league to offer this, and if you are an old fogey like me and still own a cable or dish package that features NBA TV, you can see a nationally televised contest on either ESPN, ABC, TNT or NBA TV just about every night from January to April, and nearly as many during the season’s first two months. To say nothing of the two week-long free League Pass runs they give fans every year.
Exposure is key, sports fans and televised talent show-watchers are the only ones left out there that still have to sit through commercials, and the game itself is the best advertisement the NBA can produce. It’s nice to know that some fans, even if it’s just once or twice per month or even season, will get a reasonable chance to see what we’re watching every night. Sound move, NBA.
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