The NBA is in the midst of an ugly lockout that is showing no signs of ending any time soon. Two weeks of games have already been canceled (and, of course, training camp). I’ve seen some rumblings about extending the season so as to accommodate 82 games, but obviously stadiums are committed to other events and that would pose a challenge for many cities–especially popular ones like Los Angeles and New York.
One thing that has bothered me about the NBA season the past few years as my interest has waned is the 82 game season. I wondered how modern that was. I did some research and found:
For a historical perspective, the NBA (then the Basketball Association of America) opened with a 60-game schedule for the 1946-47 season. By 1958-59, it was an eight-team league with a 72-game schedule. By 1961-62, there were nine teams and an 80-game schedule.
The league went from 81 to 82 for the first time in 1967-68 because the league had expanded to 12 teams after adding Seattle and San Diego. With so few teams and so many games, it was easy to create rivalries. The Celtics played the Knicks nine times in the regular season.
In an earlier era, when travel was tougher and the game was more physical, coaches used their reserves more than they do today. Everyone was getting paid and most everyone played, which lessened the wear and tear on the stars.
So even when there were only 8 teams they had a 72 game schedule. I think the point about rivalries developing is a good one as it speaks to the point of revenue. The league won’t cut the season to 50 games because it decreases revenue when you assess the game as it is currently. But I wonder if creating more rivalries wouldn’t re-market the game in such a way that more revenue is generated.
Look at football for example. Although there are 32 teams, every team doesn’t play each other every year. Division rivalries are important which often take advantage of the geographical closeness. That means Pittsburgh Steelers fans can travel down 95 and see their team take on the Baltimore Ravens. New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles fans can attend their games. hell, even New England Patriots and New York Jets fans can do the same thing. The NFL even benefits from long distance rivalries like the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
Structured this way, rivalries are more personal and relevant to the fans in a particular area. The revenue potential increases, and so does the impact on local economies. I’m not suggesting that this is THE solution but perhaps one of many to consider. [Sidebar; isn't it funny to look at things throughout history and see a flurry of changes to an "institution" or something over the years until you get to about 1970 or 1980 and then things are basically the same until now? We once had the ability to adjust to changing conditions, what happened?]
On a personal level, I stopped watching the NBA in part because it just lacks a sense of urgency. And I’ve been spoiled by the constant urgency of the NFL with its mere 16 games and intense playoff structure. Some of it has to do with the fact that the NBA’s regular season is utterly inconsequential. I can start watching in February (sorta) or even just watch the playoffs and feel pretty caught up.
Now that football is so popular a large part of the NBA audience’s attention is tied up until February. And right when some of them turn the channel to the NBA, March Madness kicks up. And the NBA often loses the ratings battle to the NCAA as well. Again, I think urgency is a factor.
When I ran across this Carmelo Anthony video where he talks about the lockout (very eloquently, I might add) I noticed that he said his biggest fear in the lockout is that fans will lose interest.And I do think that should be the biggest fear because if fans can live comfortably without basketball until after the NCAA finals that could mean the league would have a lot of making up to do.
As I said during the NFL lockout, cutting expenses can’t always be the only solution. Sometimes you have to take a look at your competition for business, assess your business model, and see where you can generate more revenue and better compete. Cutting salaries is not the end all be all. But alas it is the corporate way for the past almost 40 years. And now here we are.
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