The 2021-22 NBA season will be the league’s 75th, and the association plans to promote and celebrate that.
It also may use that window as a chance to make dramatic changes to the schedule.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has hinted before that maybe the 75th anniversary year is a good time to introduce change, but now the league is taking more concrete steps to move that direction. The league office conducted a brainstorming session with representatives from some teams about potential changes, reports Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.
On a June 17 conference call, a committee that consists of approximately a dozen top team executives from both basketball and business operations discussed with the league office ideas for alternatives to the traditional NBA schedule for the 2021-22 season. In what sources characterize as a wide-ranging brainstorming session with accompanying documents, participants contemplated how the NBA could introduce the aforementioned tournaments, as well as an abbreviated slate of regular-season games, to accommodate the additional events.
According to those with knowledge of the conversation, which sources regard as very exploratory, the proposed reforms would be adopted initially as a pilot program. The NBA would have the chance to observe the trial run and evaluate the long-term viability of such a schedule design.
There has been a push to reduce the number of regular season games for a while, and that came to the forefront again after these playoffs when Kawhi Leonard played in 60 regular season games to be rested and ready for the playoffs. Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first title.
However, pulling off major schedule changes in two years is a daunting task.
The biggest challenge in reducing the number of games is financial — teams count on the 41 nights of gate revenue each season, and have sold their local broadcast rights on the premise that there would be 82 games to show. Sponsors — from the on-jersey ads through in-arena sponsors — also expect exposure over a full season.
To counter that, there is the mid-season tournament idea, where teams would play for a second, separate title, as is seen in European soccer. The idea is that revenue raised for that tournament — broadcast rights sold separately is part of it — would offset the gate revenue lost from games.
Also, there is the idea of a “play-in” tournament for the playoffs. The idea would be that the top six seeds in a conference would be set, but the 7-10 seeds would be put in a tournament of some kind with the winners advancing to the playoffs and to face the top seeds.
Also, some in the league believe that if there are fewer games — a scarcity of the product — more money can be charged to see it. The NFL is used as an example here, with just 16 regular season games each event is essential and can’t be missed. The NBA regular season does not feel like that in the least.
Of course, if you can charge more per game because there are fewer games, it would be another step in pricing out the casual basketball fan from going to games, which is already a problem.
On top of all that, any plan would need to be presented to and negotiated with the NBA’s players’ union.
“It would need to be negotiated with the Players Association,” Silver said at his Finals press conference, talking about a mid-season tournament. “I’ve had very general discussions with Michele Roberts about the notion that these are the kinds of things we’re looking at. I think she, of course, is supportive of looking at any ideas we have to build the business over time. But there’s nothing concrete that we have brought to the Players Association and said, you know, ‘Is this something you’ll support?'”
Silver is a commissioner willing to explore change, he does not fear it. He wants the league to embrace it. But how much change can be done to the schedule, and how fast, may be a real test of that philosophy.