Adam Silver envies part of the European soccer model, the in-season tournaments, because it gives fan bases whose teams are out of the league title chase something to root for, a reason to be engaged. For example, my beloved Newcastle United is second to last in the Premier League table and facing a relegation fight (again), but they are still alive in the FA Cup, for example.
That idea has largely fallen flat with American fans. Still, with a $1 million per player on the winning team incentive, the idea seems to be gaining traction again, with almost the entire tournament being done pre-Christmas, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
ESPN Sources: There’s renewed traction on a future In-Season Tournament in the NBA. The league and union are discussing a structure that includes December pool play, pre-Christmas quarters/semis/finals and $1M per player payout on winning team. More next on ESPN’s NBA Countdown.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 25, 2021
Silver can hang his hat on the success of the play-in tournament as a reason to move forward. That, however, is tied to the playoffs — something American sports fans and players care deeply about — while the motivation here is primarily financial for players and it falls during American football season, when casual NBA fans are focused elsewhere. The pool-play games would be regular season games with extra importance, but it could mean a few extra games for teams that advance.
The bottom line: midseason tournaments are baked into the mentality of soccer fans, not to mention European sports schedules. Not so with American fans. Will they care if their team wins? Are the Lakers or Celtics going to hang a midseason tournament banner? Does anyone care if a player makes an extra $1 million or not? Also, that $1 million will motivate players making the league average or less, but for the star players who drive winning in the NBA — Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, etc. — would they rather have that money or a little extra rest? Especially in December. Those bottom-of-the-roster players could motivate the stars later in the tournament, but in a pool play game on a Tuesday night in early December?
Fans and plenty of people around the league are skeptical, but it looks like Silver will get his tournament. And then we will see what happens.