It’s finally time for basketball fans to admit something, if they haven’t already. The product that the NBA has put out stinks…and we are not liking the smell. The inconvenient truth is, it has been stinking for a while now, and is on a downhill trend to become worse before it gets better. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, its smaller than John Travolta’s eye sockets.
I just finished reading about Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner since the emperor, at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, talking about some of his ideas and thoughts moving forward with the NBA. Basically he wants the NBA to one day surpass the NFL as the premier sport in the country.
In the words of Wayne Campbell of Wayne’s World “Ch’yeah, right! As if!”
There are way too many problems and obstacles the NBA faces in that upwards climb to become the biggest sport in the country. First off-The NBA is about as predictable as it gets when it comes to a sporting event, and that is not a good thing. It’s about as easy to predict the NBA playoffs as it is the future plot scenarios for the Walking Dead (hint: more zombies, more people get introduced, then die)
In that spirit, I’ve assembled a list of the biggest things the NBA needs to fix.
1. Games are not that interesting anymore
…and I don’t just mean regular season games between the Bucks and the Bobcats, I’m talking about games we should care about like the Heat versus the Pacers, or the Thunder versus the Clippers. Can you tell me who won the last game between the Heat and the Pacers? Other than hardcore basketball fans, I bet you’d be hard pressed to answer. Even more importantly, could you tell me why we should even care?
Contrast that to the NFL. Even during the regular season, I’m pumped for Monday Night Football…regardless of the teams. Giants versus the Cowboys? Oh yeah, bring it on, who cracks first, Romo or Manning? Redskins versus the Vikings? Okay, let’s see how RGIII does! Jaguars versus the Bucaneers? Okay….we’ll find something, its football damnit!
Even regular season games between two teams not in the playoffs is interesting in the NFL is my point here. There are multiple storylines, mass coverage, and unrelenting hype building up to these games. Fantasy football helps, but the NFL just does a great job of promoting its product, and letting people know exactly when the games are.
The NBA does a poor job hyping up its games. Part of it is because regular season basketball games don’t mean much, due to its 82 game schedule, but in the 80’s and 90’s that never seemed to be a problem.
I think the NBA suffers from what doomed “Family Guy”, “Arrested Development” and so many other quality shows on TV in the past….watching the NBA is inaccessible and inconsistent. When’s the next NBA game on TV? Who knows….Thursday night on TNT? Friday night on TNT? Sunday on ABC?
There needs to be games consistently on TV on specific times and days throughout the week. Otherwise, you have audiences guessing when the next one is on….and like Michael Jordan evaluating college prospects, that’s not a good thing.
They also need to be flexible. What sounded like a good matchup at the beginning of the season, like the Bulls versus the Lakers, doesn’t look so good midway through the season. Why not spend more time hyping and featuring some really good teams, like the Rockets, the Clippers, or there’s a pretty good team out in the Northwest that no one seems to be paying attention to. The NFL does this to an extent, but they also know they can get away with featuring the lower end teams and still get huge ratings.
Speaking of good and bad teams…
2. Playoff Games aren’t intriguing until the Conference Finals games.
16 of the 32 teams make it in the playoffs. That’s not only bad for the playoffs, but for the regular season.
I say get rid of the bottom teams and make it a 12 team tournament like in football. #1 and #2 seeds get a bye.
Also-contract playoff games to 5 games. Not a fan of that idea? Well, it might not make sense financially, but games would get a LOT MORE interesting if elimination was best out of 5. One loss could be catastrophic to a team. You’d see a lot more series like the Nuggets vs Sonics in 94 (man, was hoping not to bring that up), which is a good thing for the NBA.
People love to see underdogs win. That’s not going to happen with current 7 game format. It especially won’t happen in the 7 game format…which has only been done twice in history in #1 vs #8 seeds. The best team will win almost every time….which is not something you want. I love the Final Four due to its unpredictability…who doesn’t love that? Satan, that’s who. And by Satan, of course I’m talking about David Stern.
At some point, the NBA has to care about the product quality as much as its bottom line revenue. They might make more money with an 82 game schedule and a 7 game playoff format, but their quality of product suffers in the process.
3. Too Many Bad Teams
Going along with the product quality narrative, there are too many horrible teams in the NBA right now. The problem isn’t talent, but its the wide gap in talent between the best teams and the worst teams. There is no chance in hell the 7th and 8th seeds in the East are beating the Heat or the Pacers…..there will be absolutely zero hype going into those playoff matchups.
The east is a train wreck, and the west isn’t that much better. I really can’t see more than 3 or 4 teams in the West making it to the finals, and the heavy favorite would be OKC. The Spurs are old, the Blazers/Warriors inexperienced….really its like OKC, the Rockets, the Clippers, and that’s it….
The NBA needs to shake up its talent pool. Limit the salary cap, heavily tax the teams that spend a lot, lower the rookie contracts even further, and you might start to see it spread around a bit more evenly. But then I guess you still have the problem of….
5. The Game Just Isn’t that Fun to Watch Anymore
Competition and parity breed a quality product. I like watching the Miami Heat (mostly because I just think Lebron is the best basketball player of our generation), but they are killing the general interest as far as creating the drama needed to attract a bigger audience. We know that Lebron took a paycut to sign with Miami, so there is little the NBA could do there, but they need to make teams have a competing chance at being a quality team every year in order to sustain their fanbases.
Going back to the NFL analogy, the best thing about being a fan of an NFL team, is the feeling you get after the year is done. After last year, I’m sure all 31 teams not named the Seahawks had the feeling of “Just wait until 2014, this will be OUR year”. That’s exactly what the NFL wants, and exactly why they are kings of the sports landscape. The salary cap is brutal for the NFL teams, but that breeds a better product in the end, because fans of every NFL team feel they genuinely have a chance to be good year after year.
And then you just have the aesthetic part. For me at least, its just not that fun to watch anymore.
The ironic part: The NBA kind of shot themselves in the foot here. They wanted to make for more scoring and high octane offense, so they did things like shorten the 3 point line, remove handchecking on defense, and made a circle beneath the hoop for no charging calls….and just got more ticky tack in general.
My solution? Go back to the old rules. Make hacking an artform, not frowned upon. Take away the circle beneath the hoop. Make the 3 point line further again. Call charges more often than blocks. Make handchecking legal. Make the NBA TOUGH AGAIN. It will force the game to become grittier. The NBA wanted to take out the elbows, the hard fouls, the trash talking…but its gotten cleaned up to the point where you can’t touch players anymore. The game should be safe, but it shouldn’t be so safe that we spend half our time watching grown 7 footers clang balls off the rim from the foul line.
Dirty it up NBA, come on, you know its what we want. I want to see the old Pistons, the old Knicks/Heat rivalries, the Lakers vs Sonics….speaking of the Sonics….
6. Huge Markets are Ignored
It shouldn’t be any secret or surprise that as a lifelong Seattle native, I was more than upset when the Sonics left town for Oklahoma City in 2009. Basketball was always my first love, and the memories created by that team in the 80’s and 90’s will never leave me. The matter of how they were ripped away from us is probably the ugliest thing that I have ever witnessed as a Sports fan. To make matters worse, the propaganda that followed the transfer of the team made it difficult for fans in Seattle to ever stay loyal to the NBA, as the blame game was placed squarely on the Seattle fans and leadership as to the reason why the team left.
The movie Sonicsgate was created to bring light to the truth behind the teams’ departure, as it went back into the history of the takeover to expose the lies, corruption, and deceit that went into taking away a team with a loyal fanbase for 40 years, and moving it into another city for private and personal reasons.
I could go on all day about the Sonics, but really my point here is about targeting the right markets. Seattle has a huge potential fanbase in basketball, as the Seattle Seahawks proved just last year on their way to a Superbowl Championship. Say what you will about Seattle being “Southern Alaska” but the NFL experienced its highest ratings ever for a Superbowl, and the playoff games leading up to it. The NFL time and time again has proved that a quality product targeting the right markets is a recipe for success.
The NBA needs to get away from the small markets with rabid fan-base model, because its not working. You can try and point to the success of the OKC Thunder as a counter to that argument, but I would just as easily win the argument by saying that if that team was on a bigger market, like say Seattle, Las Vegas, Vancouver BC, etc…they would be much more successful from a revenue standpoint and be a bigger draw in the public eye.
I’m not necessarily advocating for expansion, and I don’t believe it will happen because there are too many poor teams out there, both in terms of talent and bleeding money, that I can’t see them expanding to water down the talent pool and sharing the big revenue pot with more franchises. Unfortunately, for one of the non-NBA teams like Seattle to obtain a new team, its going to have to come from another existing franchise. I think it needs to be done though, because there are far too many empty arenas and apathetic fans currently to support the NBA and get it going to where it needs to….and that’s being at least somewhat competitive to the NFL.
The Few Things the NBA Has Going for it
- The NBA following is a young generation, which can be good and bad. You need the young generation, to spread your presence into social media, and viral marketing, but you also need to fatten your revenue. Young people do not have that, older people do. Older people (and I’m talking 30 years and up here) have the money, and the key to the big sports revenue pie. Older people not only control the wealth, but future generations by taking their kids to the games, getting them to look up to basketball stars, etc…
- The NBA has a cool factor, but not a buzz factor, and there’s a big difference there. The water cooler talk is never about last night’s big NBA game, unless its the finals.
- The NBA also enjoys some success overseas, both in Asia and Europe. The NBA would like to capitalize on those opportunities, as the game is more popular than football in those regions, but expansion is hardly the answer. Holding more games, especially the Olympic Dream Team games, overseas sounds like a much more feasible solution.
The NBA needs to be more concerned about their product, than their bottom line revenue. If you build a great product, the ratings and revenue will come. I think the NBA realizes this, but whether its pressure from their owners, or simple short-sightedness, they haven’t taken the necessary steps to adjust to this business model.
If the NBA hasn’t been paying attention, the thing that this generation of Americans want more than anything is drama. Just take a look at the some of the biggest draws on TV nowadays….Scandal, the Bachelor, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Sporting events, etc…it’s all because this generation wants to see drama. They want to know what happens when it happens, and we don’t like things to be predictable.
There is not a lot of drama in the NBA, and the little drama they do get is the not so good kind (players saying or doing something stupid).
This will probably fall on some deaf ears, but I hope it doesn’t, as I genuinely do want to see the NBA succeed (especially now that the evil emperor, David Stern is gone) but I don’t think it will ever come close to even threatening the NFL as Adam Silver hopes.