22 Teams Go for 2019/20 NBA Title
August 25, 2020
By Doug Graham and Megan Murison
The NBA was facing a suspension of its 2019/20 season in March of 2020. Due to COVID-19, the completion of the seasons of essentially all major professional sports leagues were in question. For the NBA, the first league directly impacted by the pandemic, the suspension became a reality after a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. Many players, coaches, fans and organizations began to wonder if the season would ever be resumed and, if so, what the league would look like. It involved several months of discussions with those concerned: the players’ union, ownership, health and safety experts and other stakeholders.
After considerable effort, it became clear that there was a chance to resume the 2019/20 season, albeit under strict guidelines. The NBA announced on July 10, 2020, that 22 teams would report to the “bubble” at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to restart the season. Each team was able to play eight seeding games over a two-week period leading up to the postseason. The postseason commenced on August 17 in a traditional format, which entails 16 teams competing in three rounds of a seven-game series, leading up to the ultimate seven-game championship series.
The 2019/20 season restart presented several challenges for every team in the league. Teams were faced with lost revenues due to no fans in their arenas, undelivered elements within sponsorship agreements, and lack of broadcast revenues due to postponed games. The idea of recapturing some of the lost revenues was discussed, and the league needed to think about innovative ways for teams to generate revenues without having fans in the seats.
There is good news for the NBA. The league retains a solid fan base. It is earning national broadcast revenue via the seeding and play-in games and the post season. The league has invited several hundred fans to virtually attend games through Zoom, where fans can watch the games and TV viewers can see the reactions of the dedicated fans via a fan video board visible from the telecast. Teams are also developing mobile applications that can give viewers a more in-depth and personalized viewing experience of their favorite teams. Necessity really is the mother of invention.
The 22 teams in the Orlando bubble can recapture revenues through local cable revenue and digital sponsorships. This might entail amending an agreement to deliver branding elements to sponsors in a new formats. For example, digital or physical signage can be placed throughout the bubble arena.
Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19, the NBA has pioneered new and unique ways for basketball fans to enjoy the sport again, as well as for the league and its member teams to recapture lost revenue. The NBA, players, and fans are closely following the Orlando activities, which may act as a model for other sports leagues, both professional and college, as to operating in what we hope is a very temporary new normal.