Each day a new issue pops up before we can solve the last, like a bad game of whack-a-mole. The least pressing issue in America is billionaire baseball owners battling for dollar and cents against millionaire baseball players. With the baseball season set to resume by the MLB commissioner’s fiat after ugly negotiations spilled into the public eye, some fans have soured on the game. The NBA has a golden opportunity.
Baseball used to be America’s pastime, now it clings to the title of the third most popular sport. However, just as football owns Sundays nationally, baseball owns the summertime regionally…for now.
You could argue few things are more enjoyable than a warm summer day at the ballpark with a hot dog and a cold beverage. What if I gave you an indoor arena with air conditioning and NBA basketball? What if instead of heading down to the Chickasaw Bricktown ballpark to watch triple-A baseball, you went to the Peake in the summertime instead?
This has been a conversation within NBA circles for a long time, even before a global pandemic changed life as we know it. What better time than now to shake up the entire NBA calendar forever?
Play in the sunshine
For a long time, the barrier to pushing the NBA later into the summer and starting on or around Christmas day was the issue of the television market. Sure, you are battling baseball in the sports realm, but you are also competing with summer activities. As people begin to venture out of their homes, how likely are they to huddle around television and watch the NBA when they could be at the beach?
(Yes, kids, people used to sit around a television.)
While people will, in a non-coronavirus era, still have a laundry list of summer activities to get through before the fall, in our modern-day context that does not automatically mean you are not watching TV. While it may not be firing up a Vizio in your living room, you can sit at the beach on your phone and watch LeBron James, Chris Paul, and other NBA superstars perform on the hardwood. The lack of TV viewership in the summer is no longer an issue.
Quickly, baseball is becoming a nonissue as well. While the league still generates an uptick in revenue every year, the sport is regionalized. How many baseball players can Thunder fans name that are not on the Cardinals, Rangers, Astros, or Royals? Even including those regional teams, how many players can you name? I guarantee you have a better grasp on a random NBA team’s third power forward than a random MLB team’s closer.
You are way more likely to sit down and watch the Lakers and Clippers square off, despite not having a vested rooting interest, than a Dodgers versus Angels matchup. Now, take that into account in the midst of the unemployment rate reaching all-time highs, people taking pay cuts and being furloughed, and those billionaire and millionaires are fighting over money?
Save the date
Baseball as a sport was already losing its vice grip on Summer. Those ugly negotiations led to a late restart that will beat the NBA’s return merely by a week, and will feature mostly regular season baseball overlapping with playoff basketball. The NBA is now presented with a golden opportunity to swoop in and steal the summer.
However, why would the NBA want to? After all, they could just shorten the 2020-21 season, and get back to their standard October-June format in 2021-22, right?
While that option is still on the table, it might make more sense to take advantage of a bad situation and change the format. Many casual NBA fans spend Christmas Morning opening presents and hopping on Twitter making their cliche joke: “The NBA starts today!” That is a credit to the NFL, a league that overwhelms the news cycle from August to February, even drawing heavy attention into their March draft.
Why not shift your games down by two months to only compete with NFL games in December, January and the first week of February with each passing week sending teams, markets, and fanbases home to shift their day to day focus to basketball?
While the NFL claims to be a year-round sport, in the depths of June, July, and part of August, few tangible things happen. The NBA positioning their postseason and NBA Finals during the “dog days of summer” for the MLB, and the NFL’s slowest months would help grow the game exponentially.
The NBA has already done a fantastic job of capturing a young audience that truly cares about the players and the teams. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is almost as beloved for his pregame outfits as his razzle-dazzle scoop layups. Unlike any other sport, the NBA players embrace social media and have even used it as a way to demand trades. Doubling down on this momentum with a schedule change would almost be unfair.
Adam Silver deserves a ton of respect, and credit, for his ability to market stars and grow the game. Adding a permanent move of the NBA calendar (December thru August) to that good soil could allow the league to reap a major league harvest.