NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media after the Board of Governors meetings on July 12, 2016 at the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
David Dow | NBAE | Getty Images
The proposed changes to the National Basketball Association’s 82-game regular-season schedule is receiving mixed reaction, with some saying the league isn’t cutting enough games.
In an interview with CNBC, Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, said the NBA should go beyond cutting to the proposed 78 games, with the belief 68 contests could help the NBA’s current ratings and load management issues.
“One of the reasons NFL ratings are so high is because of their scarcity,” Rishe said. “Yes, you’re going to have to make up revenue somewhere, and it probably will be made up of higher media rights, higher ticket prices, high corporate partnership rates. But I believe the ratings per game would be higher, and it will help you justify higher rights fees; justify higher partnership rates because there will be more scarcity.”
ESPN first reported the NBA floated the idea to reduce its regular season to 78 games, including an in-season tournament, and possibly reseed the top four teams remaining in the playoffs regardless of conference, according to reports. That scenario would also allow an East vs. West conference final, or a same-conference NBA Finals.
“I applaud the effort,” Philadelphia 76ers forward Al Horford said. “I don’t know if it’s going to fly.”
As part of the change, adding play-in rounds for seeds 7-10 in each conference before the postseason commences is also being considered. The 7th and 8th seed would play a game for ownership of the 7th-seed slot, and the loser of the game would play the winner of the 9th- and 10th-seed play-in game. The winner of this game claims the final postseason spot.
Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum said the schedule change is “intriguing.” But McCollum also raised additional questions surrounding the Basketball Related Income split, as some teams could play more than 78 games with the addition of play-in games.
When asked his thoughts on the changes, Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton, who played 10 seasons in the NBA, said he believes the current schedule format still “works,” and no changes are needed to the playoff format, either.
“I’d vote against it,” Walton said. “I like the schedule how it is.”
Around NBA circles, the belief is the league factored in trimming the schedule due to a decline in viewership. Earlier this week, Sports Business Journal reported ratings on TNT were down 22%, while ESPN’s NBA ratings dropped to 19%.
Asked at SBJ’s Dealmakers in Sports conference in New York about the decline, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pointed to a “broken” cable television model, saying the league’s young viewers “are tuning out traditional cable.”
Rishe said cutting games could be risky as there is no guarantee ratings or fees would increase with fewer games. But he added the demand for games would increase, and if the league remains popular among sports fans, revenue may not be affected that much.
“It is kind of a bet,” Rishe said. “You’re betting that if you do shrink the season by a certain amount, that you’re not going to adversely affect overall revenues. And once you start talking about adversely affecting overall revenues, it’s not only going to rock the apple cart in New York; it’s also going to rock the apple cart with the players union.”
Not all are skeptical about the idea of trimming the schedule and adding a tournament-style format.
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who coached at Butler University to two Final Fours before coming to the NBA, applauded the league for at least taking a look at ways to improve the schedule instead of staying “status quo because it’s status quo. We have to continue to look at what’s best for the game, what’s best for the players. … I appreciate the leadership in that league.”
“If it’s 78 or an in-season tournament, you play 81 or 83, you’re really not changing the number of games,” Stevens added. “But you certainly are at least looking at things that will continue to make it exciting for people and will continue to provide the entertainment value that it is.”
“I think it provides an exciting new thing,” Stevens saidd. “I don’t think we should avoid those things.”