I’m sure you remember one of the challenges of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the timing — it’s a 12 hour difference between the East Coast and Beijing, so an afternoon event at 2 p.m. went on in the middle of the night. Even a prime-time event at 8 p.m. was an early morning occasion in the states.
Now the NBA is dealing with that in reverse — China is a growing part of the NBA market but the games are on at terrible hours. You have to be a pretty diehard fan to wake up and schedule your morning around an 8 am NBA Finals game.
So how would Boston/New York fans feel about a 10 a.m. Knicks. vs. Celtics tip-off?
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke with Bloomberg’s Stephanie Ruhle and Cory Johnson from the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit and said it could happen to some games down the line:
“I think the biggest challenge (to growing the game internationally) is the time zone differences. I mean, for example, in China, roughly 12 hours different from the East Coast. So prime time games are on early in the morning, so you have to figure out whether we need to create new products, condensed games that are shown later, whether it becomes a business of highlights, whether it’s equivalent of tweets and other forms of social media.
“I think that’s sort of — part of the biggest challenge. I mean, ultimately, whether we should consider time-shifting some of our games. Once the audience becomes big enough, maybe it’s not so crazy to ask a team once every two months to play a Saturday morning game….
“Yes, maybe when the audience gets big enough China and you’re reaching 100 million people in China to say so maybe once in a while a team will play at 10:00 on Saturday morning.”
Silver admitted the NBA isn’t there yet. Frankly, it’s not close. He said the short-term goal for the NBA might be to partner more with the existing Chinese Basketball Association and help them grow.
Besides, have you watched the Knicks’ 1 p.m. tip-off games at Madison Square Garden? They do a handful every season. The players look like they’re sleepwalking for the first half. The level of play drops noticeably. Now you want to move some games up three hours?
But this just shows you how much Silver, like David Stern before him, is thinking about the overseas markets. There certainly can be more growth of the game domestically, but that market does not come close to the overseas growth potential. The NBA is the premier league in a sport growing in popularity worldwide.
It’s all about the money, and while the players would hate it if moving some games around generates more money in international television revenues, you think the owners won’t sacrifice the quality of the game a little? I’m not sure they’d blink.