When it comes to US major sports, NFL is king. This is verified by several different factors. The league is valued at around $2.86 billion, $900 million than the closest rival, the NBA. It is also seen by the amount of sports betting placed every year on games – there was around $60 billion (give or take, there’s no way to calculate offshore wagers) in NFL betting last year, while all other major sports leagues saw around $50 billion combined. Also, and where all sports leagues want to see the biggest impact, the ratings for NFL games completely controls the market.
Koonin’s Solution? NBA Finals In August
The CEO for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, Steve Koonin, believes he has the solution that will help the league give the NFL a run for the money. He wants to move the entire pro basketball season by a few months.
In addition to already competing, in large part, with football games, viewership of NBA games has been on the decline in recent years. Koonin spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last Friday in Boston, explaining his plan and how it would help the league rebound from its falling viewership and, as a result, be able to boost its revenue.
Currently, the NBA starts its regular season around mid-October, about a month and a half after the NFL season starts. It runs until April, which gives it just two months without any NFL, assuming an early February Super Bowl, and straight-up competition for viewers for five of its six months. If the NBA isn’t able to compete for fans at home, then the best solution, according to Koonin, is to move the season so it begins in mid-December, instead.
Koonin asserts, “A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings. Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings. If King Kong [the NFL] is at your door, you might go out the back door, rather than go out the front and engage in a hand-to-hand fight with King Kong.
“Many times, at the start of the NBA season, we are competing with arguably the best Thursday Night Football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee broadcast, and we get crushed and we wonder why. It’s because at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA. The relevance is now. That’s when people are talking about it.”
It’s not necessarily a far-fetched idea, and the NBA wouldn’t be the first major sports league to adapt its schedule to avoid the NFL. The PGA Tour changed its schedule starting with the 2018 season so it could wrap up ahead of the football season, deciding to drop one of its playoff events to have just three, instead of four.
The SVP of strategy and analytics for the NBA, Evan Wasch, isn’t opposed to making the switch to having the NBA Finals in August, which could help Koonin drum up support for his cause. Wasch explains, “We certainly have no issue with reconsidering the calendar. To [Koonin’s] point, you have to think about the other stakeholders. They need to get more comfortable with the Finals in August, rather than June, where traditionally the household viewership is a lot lower. But the flip side of that argument is there hasn’t been a lot of premium content in that window, which explains why viewership is lower. We’re open to that…there’s no magic to [the season going from] October to June.”
Fighting against NFL games isn’t the only reason viewership has declined, though, and this is where there may be some opposition to the idea. With major basketball stars, such as Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Zion Williamson ending up on the bench due to injuries, fans were changing the channel. No matter when the season plays out, suffering absences of major players won’t keep people glued to the games.