NBA Is Trying Shorter Games — Why Not A Shorter Season?
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Baseball games seem to get all the flak for going on too long, but basketball apparently has its own time issues. On Sunday, the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets will play a preseason basketball game and this hardly qualifies as news, except for one thing, the game is going to last 44 minutes. That's four minutes shorter than the usual 48. Now to explain in less than four minutes, we hope, why this is a thing, is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hey, there Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So 44 minutes, what's the thinking behind this? I mean is this about our attention spans or something else?
FATSIS: Well it's actually about something else and how this is going to works is pretty simple - 11 minute quarters instead of 12. There are going to be two fewer mandatory time outs than usual and the idea is to tighten up the flow of the typical NBA game. It's something that coaches and players do talk about and maybe longer-term, do something to address the wear and tear on players. Four minutes a game over the course of the league's 82-game season would add up to seven fewer games overall.
CORNISH: So then why not just lop off those seven games entirely?
FATSIS: Right, well, that would make the most sense and that's exactly where this conversation inside the NBA is heading. LeBron James said this week that the length of individual games isn't the problem, the length of the season is. Eighty-two games is an accident of history, it's been that number since 1967. A shorter season would certainly create a better product night-to-night. Another star, Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, noted that fewer games would reduce the number of energy sapping back-to-back road games, there's already lingo for a hopeless game at the end of a long road trip in the NBA. It's called the schedule loss.
CORNISH: So what are the chances that a modern sports league, in this era of big cable deals, would actually reduce the amount of play?
FATSIS: Low. The NBA did just sign a nine-year, $24 billion media rights deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. Reducing the number of games would affect how much money the networks would be willing to pay the league, which in turn would directly affect how much money owners and players make, but if games are more compelling and meaningful and in a 60 game season they certainly would be, it's also possible that fans would be more likely to tune in to say, a Wednesday night game in the middle of February. In any case, the 44 minute experiment and the broader conversation about season length, I think they do reflect new NBA commissioner Adam Silver's willingness to entertain some fundamental changes that might improve the product.
CORNISH: But back to that TV deal for a second. Twenty-four billion dollars, put that number in context for us.
FATSIS: It's 180 percent more than the current deal, $2.6 billion a year starting in the 2016-17 season, up from 930 million. Now, how is this happening? - Live sports remain a desirable product. We can talk about oversaturation, we can talk about the idea that fewer games would attract bigger audiences like the NFL or March Madness in college basketball, but the reality is that the networks want content. Leagues aren't afraid to schedule too many games and this new deal will add more games on national TV.
CORNISH: But any other ramifications for something like this?
FATSIS: Yes, the labor deal between players and owners comes up around the same time as this contract takes effect, more TV revenue means that the players are going to want more money, that could be a conflict. The most interesting part of this deal might turn out to be a plan to create over-the-top streaming of NBA games. Fans won't need a cable subscription to watch games online, it's similar to what we saw this week from HBO and CBS. Finally...
FATSIS: Oh, man, I didn't get my shot off before the final buzzer.
CORNISH: Wrap it up, Fatsis.
FATSIS: All right, heading in the deal starting at the 2017 All-Star game, companies are going to be able to buy advertising space on NBA jerseys, estimated value up to $10 million a year.
CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much for playing with us.
FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.
CORNISH: That's Stefan Fatsis. He joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @StefanFatsis and me at @NPRAudie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.