As the NBA looks to start games by December 22nd, John Hollinger of the Athletic examines why the league chose the timing and the length of the season that is being proposed. As noted elsewhere, the league missed revenue projections by $1.5 billion. Starting games by Christmas could allow the league to dominate television sets.
According to Charania’s report, the league could earn about $500 million more in revenue if it starts play just before Christmas — and therefore hogs the TV spotlight on Christmas Day — and completes its playoffs before viewership declines in the summer. That money is likely to rule the conversation and push both sides toward adopting the plan.
Without fans in the stands, Hollinger notes that television revenues — as well as meeting regional and national television contracts — dictate the timing of the schedule.
The initial thinking was to push the start of the season back to allow a potential vaccine to permit a 2020-21 season with full arenas. As that hope becomes more distant, the logic has shifted. At this point, 2020-21 is a bit of a sunk cost. The league is unlikely to get much from it in terms of ticket revenue regardless of when games start, so it might as well bang it out quickly in the time frame that is most conducive to TV audiences.
Meeting those contacts also spells out just how many games have to be played.
From a TV perspective, 72 games are just enough to satisfy the regional sports network contracts that provide local TV revenue for each team (most specify either 65 or 70 games), but still short enough to get the season banged out between Christmas and the beginning of May.
Meanwhile, a full playoffs with a slate of Christmas games and the usual national-TV spotlight games from January to the end of April should be enough to satisfy the national TV partners. The league could be in and out before July 4, when TV ratings typically crater.
Hollinger asserts that the league has a reason for pursuing this path: it is remarkably close to what happened during the lockout shortened season of 2011-2012. You can read Hollinger’s analysis of the schedule here.