The biggest news about the Knicks’ schedule leak is the absence of a Christmas game.
Their reported opener – at the Bucks on Oct. 28 – is of only minor importance in New York. Sure, there are storylines – Greg Monroe facing the Knicks after spurning them in free agency, the Knicks hoping this a battle for playoff position, etc.
But in Milwaukee, it’s definitely a big deal.
This will be the Bucks’ first opening game at home since 1984 (hat tip: Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal).
As you can imagine that’s the NBA’s longest streak – by a huge margin:
In their last season opener in Milwaukee, the Bucks beat the Bulls, 108-106. Terry Cummings led Milwaukee with 34 points, and Orlando Woolridge scored 29 for Chicago. A Bulls rookie named Michael Jordan, playing his second NBA game, added 21.
So why hasn’t Milwaukee opened at home since?
In the Bucks’ case, there is no market bias with the league’s schedule-makers. Instead, the Bucks have all but forced the NBA to give them road games to start each season. Team owner Herb Kohl—whose purchase of the team, in 1985, coincided with the beginning of the streak—wasn’t immediately available for comment. But in an email, Bucks spokesman Dan Smyczek said the “simple answer is [that] we like having a weekend home opener.”
That makes business sense. In the past 10 years, the Bucks have drawn 11.6% more fans—1,740 people a game—to Saturday home games than to games on other days of the week, according to Stats LLC. That is the third-largest boost in the league, trailing only the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards.
The club’s scheduling oddity—which illustrates every small-market team’s challenge in drawing fans to games—is one of many that Matt Winick, the NBA’s senior vice president of scheduling and game operations, has to accommodate each year.
Before each season, all 30 NBA teams submit a calendar laying out when their arena will be free of concerts or other events so they can host a game. But the Bucks always list their first available home date as a Saturday. As such, with NBA seasons beginning in the middle of the week, Winick is forced to schedule Milwaukee on the road to start.
The Bucks have new owners, Wes Edens and Marc Lasry. That alone could explain the shift.
The NBA is also trying to reduce the number of four-in-fives. The more teams limit their available dates, the more difficult schedule equity becomes. The league might just have a reduced tolerance for the Bucks saying they can’t host a game during the season’s first few days.
Either way, Milwaukee fans will learn – or, for a select few older ones, re-learn – the excitement of playing at home to begin a season.