NBA's December Proposal Misses The Point Entirely

William Pitts
Mar 7, 2020, 2:51 PM EST
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver | Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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In the wake of this season's falling television ratings, NBA leadership have not been shy about suggesting radical changes to the game, with ideas such as in-season tournaments and total playoff re-seeding tossed around. One league executive has a far simpler idea - to push the entire league calendar back two months.

That league executive is Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who presented his idea at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday. Under Koonin's proposal, the NBA season would begin in mid-December and end with the NBA Finals in mid-August, thereby avoiding competition with the NFL and college football; for a large chunk of the regular season.

At least one person in the higher eschelon of the league has taken notice, and on paper, Koonin's proposal is perfectly sound. As far as most of the general public is concerned, the NBA season really begins on Christmas Day, when the networks bring fans a smorgasbord of games featuring the league's brightest stars in compelling matchups. Why not make it so the regular season really does begin on Christmas Day, further cementing the NBA's monopoly on sports for that particular day?

The problem is with the rationale for the proposed schedule shift - namely, to boost TV ratings.

As of mid-February, ratings for ESPN telecasts have dropped 10% from last season, TNT telecasts are down 13%, and ABC down a whopping 16%. That's not 16% in November through December. That's 16% for the entire season overall.

Fans aren't avoiding basketball because there are other sports on. They're simply avoiding basketball.

The reasons are numerous, some of which are simply down to bad luck. A rash of injuries to the league's up-and-coming stars, including the Pelicans' Zion Williamson, just happened to coincide with their teams' appearances on national television, which turned viewers away. In some cases, it boils down to the dramatic collapse of local fans' favorite team, which accounts for the 66% drop the Warriors have taken on local broadcasts.

For most, however, the state of play in the league has not kept fans engaged enough to keep tuning in. Not helping matters at all is the league's ever-growing "load management" issue, something the networks can do little about.

Shifting the start of the season to December will do little to solve the core problems plaguing the NBA. It simply shoves a dead cat into someone else's backyard.

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