Nov 3, 2020 - Sports

The NBA is pushing to start its season in December

Illustration of basketball split into 6 piece pie chart
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

After initially indicating that the 2020-21 season would likely start in January or February, NBA officials are now pushing for a 72-game season starting Dec. 22.

The state of play: There are obvious financial benefits to an earlier start, including the preservation of the league's marquee Christmas games and not having to compete with football again, let alone the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Yes, but: The main reason the NBA changed its mind is that the chief argument for delaying the season — the return of fans — is no longer realistic.

  • A few months ago, there was hope that the virus would wane by February, giving teams the chance to sell tickets and generate other in-stadium revenue, which accounts for roughly 40% of the league's $8 billion annual revenue.
  • But instead of slowing down, infections have reached all-time highs amid the pandemic's third wave, leaving the NBA in no position to bank on a smooth reopening of arenas.

By the numbers: The NBA fell $1.5 billion short of its projected revenue for 2019-20 and believes it will lose another $500 million if its fails to start in December.

  • Those kinds of losses dramatically alter future salary caps and individual salaries, but the players' union remains reluctant to agree to such a short offseason (72 days between the end of last season and Dec. 22).

Looking ahead: The NBA is reportedly developing ways to increase cash flow, including new on-court endorsement signage and more relaxed guidelines on sports betting and hard alcohol partnerships.

  • A play-in tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference is also on the table.
  • It was a success in the bubble and would instantly create new revenue streams for the league and its broadcast partners.
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