The NBA reintroduced a long-dormant regular-season schedule feature last season:
To reduce travel and ideally spread of coronavirus across teams, teams played consecutive games against each other in the same location 84 times.
Yet, as the league tries to get back to normal, regular-season series remain. There are 23 scheduled for next season.
NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Strategy & Analytics Evan Wasch on “The Crossover” podcast:
From the team side, specifically on the basketball side, it was nearly unanimous that they were positive on the impact of the series, because, again, cuts down travel. Instead of 41 games where you’re flying in for that game, now you’ve got a bunch of instances where you’re not travelling before a road game. And, of course, that offers some benefit to that road team, gets them into a routine in that market.
Interestingly, we also even heard from teams that, as the home team in those series, that they appreciated the opportunity to play the same consecutive opponent. Which you would have thought would be the opposite. You would have thought that, if there’s an advantage for the road team, that, by definition, it’s a disadvantage for the home team. But teams, I think from a preparation standpoint – especially a playoff team preparing for the strategy of playing the same opponent multiple times in a row – that cadence of either the back-to-back or the day off between, they just liked it.
And so that was all positive.
The player feedback was a little more mixed. Interestingly, you heard from some players, particularly as it relates it to some of our more attractive so-called markets, that two trips to some of those markets over the course of the season spread out may not be a bad thing. And so they said, “Sure, I’m fine doing a series. But don’t make it to City X” without naming names, because I want to go there twice.
The big unknown was, what I mentioned earlier, was the team business impact and the fan impact. Because most of last season we either had limited or no fans in the arenas, we didn’t really get a feel for how those series would impact attendance and fan interest in those games. And so before going full throttle this season in what we expect to be a more-normal season with full arenas, we wanted to do a bit more of a pilot test – to say, what will happen when Team X visits Team Y for two consecutive games? Will that impact attendance? Will that impact gate for those games? – before deciding how to proceed in future years.
We’ll look at the data after this year and decide whether we want to sort of push the pedal on that going forward.
It’s nice teams travel less. It’s nice teams get a taste of playoff-style basketball. It’s nice the league can somewhat accommodate players who prefer certain road trips.
But the most important variable is the unknown one:
How will fans react?
It had long been though fans would be disinclined to watch the same opponent twice. That barely mattered last season, when attendance was limited. But if attendance and viewership drop significantly during series this season, expect regular-season series to disappear. Revenue matters most.
Perhaps, series will work in certain markets than not others. Just 15 teams host a series this year – led by the Timberwolves and Kings with three each. So, maybe the answer will take multiple seasons to learn.
But series remain a not-necessarily permanent aspect of the NBA schedule for now.