A plan to relaunch the 2019-2020 NBA season is still up in the air, as small-market owners excluded from an envisioned 22-team tournament in Orlando want to include every team in any resumption, but there are plenty of long-term challenges to the sport.
The plan to relaunch the season has morphed through several iterations, with the most recent version scaling down the number of teams to 22 (as opposed to a full 30) and playing in just one location, ESPN’s Wide World of Sports (as opposed to Las Vegas and Orlando sites). But that plan has some small-market owners worried: they argue that including all 30 teams would provide a boost to the entire league and keep them in local headlines. With the 2021-2022 season not likely to launch until December or perhaps even Jan. 1, teams not part of the 22-team field worry that a long break between March and December will make it harder to sell tickets and sponsorships. From ESPN:
For those teams left out of the playoffs, there has already been dialogue on the possibility of mandatory summer training camps and regional fall leagues of four to five teams that could bridge the lengthy gap between seasons, sources told ESPN. Those are ideas many teams consider vital, and there’s an expectation that the NBA will raise possible scenarios such as these with the players’ association, sources said.
“The message was something bigger, reminding people that some teams can’t just reopen the doors in nine or 10 months and so easily sell tickets or a sponsorship without having played basketball for that long,” one high-level Eastern Conference official on the call told ESPN.
This concern for long-term thinking versus short-term gain is at the heart of the decision-making process for sports leagues looking to launch in the face of a coronavirus pandemic that stubbornly refuses to magically go away. We are in the long slog here: finishing the current NBA season only means that planning for the next season begins, and it will be a lot more challenging than gathering in Disney World for controlled play. The small-market teams worrying about 2020-2021 can see this: polls consistently say fans won’t return to arenas until they feel safe, while a subset that of that say they won’t return until a vaccine is available. So while it’s a great feeling to relaunch the season, as the NBA Board of Governors is poised to do Thursday, long-term planning is still essential.
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