It was only two months ago when one NBA executive was publicly making the pitch at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for an NBA regular season calendar that kicks off at Christmas instead of in the middle of the NFL regular season in October.
“A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said back in March of the idea. “Sometimes, moving away from the competition is a great way to grow ratings. If King Kong is at your door, you might go out the back door, rather than go out the front and engage in a hand-to-hand fight with King Kong.
“Many times, at the start of the NBA season, we are competing with arguably the best Thursday Night Football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee broadcast, and we get crushed and we wonder why. It’s because at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA. The relevance is now. That’s when people are talking about it…”Let football have its time. Let’s have our time, and let’s go after it.”
The idea created some interesting debate in NBA circles at the time about a potentially dramatic shift in an NBA calendar that had been consistent for decades. Weeks later, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of a revamped calendar is quickly turning into a reality for the NBA.
Weeks after Koonin’s suggestion, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported on Friday that the delayed start to next season was discussed in great depth at the Board of Governor’s meeting on Friday. The reasons for the shift make plenty of sense, at least on a temporary basis: The NBA hopes to complete the 2019-20 season at some point later this summer or fall. That timeline could stretch into potentially September or October to complete a potential 2019-20 postseason and will force a delayed start to the actual NBA offseason in the fall assuming games are safe enough to be played. Assuming NBA Free Agency and the NBA Draft are held at some point in September or October, starting the NBA season around Christmas would allow for a reasonably abbreviated offseason and an opportunity for guys to rest up rather than potentially play a 100+ game grind for Finals participants on the heels of 20+ potential games in the postseason.
For next year, however, the calendar shift may be just as financially motivated for the league than anything else. The longer the season is delayed, the greater chance there may be to have some kind of protocol or vaccine in place which would allow fans to safely attend games again at NBA arenas. That would provide crucial additional revenue for teams to help minimize losses caused by the pandemic.
So what exactly might this all look like over the course of a 12-month NBA calendar? And could it have long-term staying power beyond the pandemic? Let’s explore:
December 2020: NBA training camps begin
The league has traditionally played four preseason games in recent years but that could be reduced amid a cramped calendar.
Christmas 2020: Regular season debuts with a five-game nationally televised slate
The NFL will be finishing up the regular season at this point of their calendar (assuming no delay due to coronavirus), giving the NBA just one month of overlap with the NFL on the sports calendar as opposed to three months with an October start.
Early April 2020: NBA Trade Deadline/All-Star Weekend
This is simply pushing these events two months back from their usual spots which aligns well with the rest