Of all the major All-Star games, the NBA’s has by far the greatest potential. If only the players would truly play hard.The Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star game could never be more than mere exhibitions by sheer virtue of the injury-risk those sports present. A single baseball game is too individualistic a pursuit to truly appreciate the value of an All-Star team. But basketball is different. One time a year, we don’t have to imagine what it would be like for Kobe to play with a good point guard, or Deron Williams to play with an elite finisher. Consider how compelling the Heat have been all year. Now imagine that roster, but with Derrick Rose and Amar’e Stoudemire instead of Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers. Now imagine those five competing against an even stronger team from the Western Conference.
Best of all, with rare exception, NBA players walk away from a game with all their teeth, bones, and ligaments intact. And considering the quantity of talented players competing, NBA players need only play 25 hard minutes this weekend – 15 fewer than stars play on any given regular season night.
That potential greatness never comes to fruition because the players don’t play hard. And, unfortunately, it’s hard to blame them. There’s absolutely no incentive. The players are content to head to the game, hang out with their superstar buddies, and trade uncontested dunks for 45 minutes. If fans are lucky, the last three minutes are competitive.
How can we get them to play competitively for 48 minutes?
Shane Battier, Jason Kidd, and George Karl liked the idea of replicating the NHL’s All-Star Game draft, in hopes that it brings the competitive spirit out of the players for a full 48 minutes. Sure, that has potential, but it depends on the players taking the draft seriously. It’s far more likely that the players treat it light-heartedly as the NHL players did, and ultimately don’t play their hardest.
Chauncey Billiups suggested the same incentive baseball employs, giving the winning conference homecourt advantage in the Finals. This very well could work. Baseball players seem to take it seriously, and because the NBA doesn’t require a representative from each team, many participants actually have a realistic shot at playing in June. Consider that the four best teams in the East – the Celtics, Heat, Magic, and Bulls – comprise 75 per cent of the roster. While out West, the four best teams – the Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, and Thunder – make up nearly 60 per cent of the roster. Fifteen of 24 participants would be directly impacted by this incentive.
But Billups admits the All-Star Game isn’t a fair way to decide the home team. It should be based on a resume established over the course of an 82 games – not a single game in February with foreign teammates.
That’s why the best incentive is cold, hard cash.
Pay the winning team. It really wouldn’t take much. The highest-paid player, Kobe Bryant, earns about $302,000 per game. By comparison LeBron James makes just $177,000 per game, and Kevin Love, the least well-compensated All-Star, brings in $44,000 per game.
Under the current system, the winning players each make $35,000 while the losers get $10,000. What if the losers’ compensation remained the same, and the winning team earned $400,000 each? (The head coach, three assistants, and trainer could divide another $700,000 between them.) They’d definitely play hard for that kind of dough.
All that would take is a $5.5 million investment into the game, which is pocket change to the NBA’s billion-dollar corporate sponsor. Perhaps one of them could subsidise it. Continental Airlines, for example, might find it appropriate for its “Work hard, fly right” campaign. Then again, that could affect existing sponsorship contracts and complicate the marketing of the game.That’s why TNT should offer the bounty. See, compelling the players to play hard is good for their business. Over time, a competitive all-star game would capture the imagination of a much larger audience. NBA junkies will watch no matter what. But the casual fan that once dismissed the game as a mere defenseless exhibition, would be intrigued. The ratings would jump, and eventually advertising revenue would increase.
An industry insider told us that TNT sells :30 second spots for about $200,000 – $230,000. Let’s be safe and assume it’s $215,000. That’s based on two factors: the number of people that viewed previous games, and the increase in viewership this year.
Last year, TNT’s All-Star game generated seven million viewers, but that was up against the Winter Olympics opening weekend. The year before, the All Star game garnered 7.6 million viewers. So using that number, and considering the 36% increase in NBA viewership this year, it’s reasonable to expect that those ads were sold based on 10 million total viewers. Every million viewers was worth about $21,000 per :30 seconds of ads to TNT. We estimate they sell about 60 :30 second spots over the course of the game. So this year, they’re poised to earn about $13 million. (Though that seems a little bit low, right?)
Revenues would need to $19 million to be worthwhile for TNT. So each :30 spot would need to generate an extra $100,000, or fewer than five million additional viewers.
Can a hard-fought game attract 15 million viewers? Well, if you’re with me, and you think a game featuring the game’s 24 best players working their tail off against one another would be the most exciting NBA game of the season outside the NBA finals, then it’s definitely feasible. Consider that Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year garnered 28.2 million viewers. The revamped All-Star game would need just more than half that. And in February, the quietest time of the sporting calendar, it’s not only feasible. It’s probable.
TNT, it’s time to fork over that money. But we’ll leave it to the NBA to spin this sinister strategy in a positive light.
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