The NBA has a season problem.
In addition to many fans tuning out the long 82-game season until the playoffs, the NBA has a problem internally, with players resting to preserve their bodies and bad teams being forced to tank and lose games once they realise they’re not competitive.
The common argument has been that the NBA will have a tough time making any meaningful changes because there’s too much money at stake — each lost game means fewer money for the owners.
However, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey thinks that the NBA could actually still benefit with a drastic change that follows the NFL’s model. Morey told ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh that greater scarcity of games would help the league.
“‘The idea that the NFL would make more money with 82 games is absurd,’ Morey said. ‘Shorter schedule increases the importance of each game, which drives TV ratings, which drives the lion’s share of money for most top pro leagues.’
“Morey believes the NBA would make more money in the long-term if it cut games from the schedule. The NFL faces diminishing returns because of the barbaric physicality of the sport. It chose 16 games.”
On Monday, Morey went on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” and defended his stance. Morey first explained the NBA’s problems.
“Most of the top major sports, the majority of their money comes from television, obviously, with the NFL leading the way, the NBA, obviously, huge amounts of television money. And people tune into the games based on two things. One is, how important is this game to the overall prize of that league, whatever it is, and two is, how uncertain is the outcome? Well, the NBA unfortunately fails during the regular season at a pretty high level at both of those issues. One, most of the games in the regular season do not make a huge difference to the overall prize, and two, we also have a game that is structured where the better teams beat the worse teams at a much higher rate.
“So, by shortening the number of games — and this is a tough gamble by the NBA and I understand that — it’s almost for sure that by shortening the number of games, the ratings would rise and it would lead to higher television money.”
He then offered his ideas on just how the league shorten its season, saying the NBA could have 30-40 games per season and one- or three-game playoff series to drive greater interest.
“I think it could be quite a bit dramatic, along with shortening playoff series. I don’t actually think there’s a magic number. Actually, what I think you need to do is shorten it to up the interest. I think it could go as low as 30-40 and shortening playoff series to one to three [games] … I would say the league, though, would like quite a bit of variance. It’s actually really helpful for the NFL, for example, and another reason they have so much interest, that you have ‘any given Sunday.’ You have a playoffs where it is one-and-done. Those two things help drive interest to a massive level. You actually don’t want the better team to win all the time, you want that uncertainty of outcome.”
Morey’s idea is an interesting one to imagine. If the NBA cut its season to 40 games, and played two games per week over a 20-week season, it would certainly draw more interest and make the actual experience of the games rarer and more valuable. There would be more time to market the games, more intrigue over the biggest matchups, and a greater possibility of a lesser team beating a better team on any random night.
Of course, it’s worth arguing if this would still be intriguing enough to top the revenue that comes from an 82-game season. While there are undoubtedly problems with the current format, the NBA also just inked a $US24 billion TV deal, raising the salary cap and franchise values to previously unseen levels. There’s also been a boom of young, exciting talent, and the league is experiencing its most exciting MVP race in years, with several household names ranking as worthy candidates. Many people would argue that the league has never been in a better place.
It seems unlikely that the NBA would consider an idea as drastic as Morey’s, but having such a prominent voice speak out on the issue could encourage change.
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