Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Competition in the NBA- A Proposal

As the NBA faces an increasingly difficult operating environment, with some teams fighting through some particularly dire conditions, contraction and a relegation system, a la European soccer, are among the ideas that have been floated as possible remedies to what ails the NBA. While both are intriguing ideas, for a variety of reasons, neither is likely to be an optimal solution. While there’s no silver bullet solution to the problems facing the NBA, the organic creation of a new revenue stream, one with the potential to increase fan interest in sagging markets, could serve not only as a short-term bridge to more prosperous economic times, but also expand the league’s impact without further diluting the on-court product through the addition of yet more teams to an already overcrowded league.


I believe that some portion of the answer does lie across the Atlantic, but not in the form of relegation, which, if implemented today, would saddle the owners of many teams with a disproportionately large potential downside (massive revenue loss stemming from relegation), with the upside limited to maintaining the status quo by simply being allowed to remain in the NBA. Relegation is a viable system in European soccer for one simple reason- it outdates the infiltration of huge money into the game. No, relegation is not the answer- not now, at least. It is possible that the Association could one day consider such a system, but I don’t believe that day is upon us.


Who says there can only be one competition each season? Most seasons, by the All-Star Break, more than half the league has little to play for beyond pride and draft position (not aided by actually winning games), and little to aspire to, beyond a first round matchup as a heavy underdog against a top opponent. Why does that have to be the case? Well, I say it doesn’t!

My proposal is the advent of the (sponsor’s name here) Association Cup- a totally separate, single elimination tournament involving all NBA teams, concurrent with the NBA’s regular season. By adding a grand total of 29 games to its schedule, the NBA would stand to reap four rewards:

  1. Team that are out of contention, without a realistic shot at an NBA title at any point in the foreseeable future, are now given something to play for, with a real opportunity to win some hardware, giving the fans a real incentive to buy tickets, come out to the arena and really get behind their team.
  2. As the NBA season wears on, in the late-February/March “post-All-Star Game/pre-playoff-push” period, fan interest, and possibly even some player interest, particularly on lesser teams, tends to wane a bit. With a separate “one-and-done” competition, based on the prior regular season (one disincentive to tanking), that will play a role in determining draft position (another disincentive; more on this in a moment), not only will fans have a new competition to keep their attention during the winter, the existing regular games begin to take on greater significance.
  3. These games, especially from Rounds 3-4 on, should, by definition, generate far greater interest (and revenue!) than the regular season games they’re competing against, and consequently result in greater fan turnout (with the greater gate receipts that accompanies it) and some significant corporate sponsorship opportunities. It’s probably fair to assume that GEICO paid a fair amount of money to sponsor the Kevin Durant-Joe Johnson-O.J. Mayo H-O-RS-E game at All-Star Weekend. So why wouldn’t another sponsor pay a considerable sum to be associated with a competition involving (potentially) all NBA stars, that replaces the draft lottery (more on this is a second) and has officially recognized silverware?
  4. The potential finals. Even if teams elect to rest some of their superstars at various points in the tournament, once the semifinals and the final come around, it’s fair to assume that the NBA’s elite will catch the competition bug. You think Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade or Chris Paul would just mail it in and let one of the others walk away with the trophy? I don’t. Frankly, this tournament could really draw in the league’s elite players by appealing to their hypercompetitive nature, while getting the most out of the league’s lesser teams. You think another Lakers-Celtics game, or Kobe v. LeBron, with trophy on the line might be mildly interesting? Yeah, me too.

Here’s a proposal for how such a tournament would be set: All 30 teams would be seeded based on the previous year’s regular season record (see exhibit below). Needless to say, 30 participants do not make for and clean and simple tourney, the way that say, 32 or 16 do. Not to worry! The tournament’s first three rounds will cut the field down to 16. How? Glad you asked!

  • Round 1 (mid-December)- 5 games between the teams ranked #21-30 (#21 v. #30, 22 v. 29, 23 v. 28, 24 v. 27 & 25 v. 26), on the higher seeds’ home floor; 25 teams remaining
  • Round 2 (early-January)- 5 games between teams #16-20 and the five Round 1 winners (#16 v. lowest seeded R1 winner, 17 v. next lowest, 18 v. 3rd lowest, 19 v. 2nd highest & 20 v. top seeded R1 winner), again on the higher seeds’ home floor; 20 teams remaining
  • Round 3 (late-January)- 4 games between teams #13-15 and the five Round 2 winners (#13 v. lowest seeded R2 winner, 14 v. next lowest, 15 v. 3rd lowest & the top 2 seeded R2 winner face one another), again on the higher seeds’ home floor; 16 teams remaining (one interesting thought here: why not just scrap the draft lottery and award the top pick to the lowest seeded surviving team? To take this one step further, why not simply use this to determine drafting order- it beats ping-pong balls, doesn’t it?)
  • Round 4 (early-February)- 8 games between teams #1-12 and the four Round 3 winners (#1 v. lowest seeded R3 winner, 2 v. next lowest, 3 v. 3rd lowest, 4 v. highest R3 winner, and & 12 v. 5, 11 v. 6, 10 v. 7 and 9 v. 8, just like in the NCAA tourney!), once again, on the higher seeds’ home floor; 8 teams remaining; from this point forward, in the interest of enabling “Cinderella runs” by surviving lower seeds, no reseeding!
  • Round 5 (Quarterfinals; early-March)- 4 games between the 8 surviving teams, as there is no reseeding, we simply continue on with the Round 4 bracket; however, in the interest of possibly bringing late-round games to sagging markets, home court in each matchup will be determined by a coin toss; 4 teams remaining
  • Round 6 (Semifinals; late-March)- 2 games involving the 4 surviving teams, with no reseeding; once again, home court in each matchup will be determined by a coin toss; 2 teams remaining
  • Round 7 (The Final; Sunday after completion of NBA Finals)- A (more than likely) neutral site game, taking place in a city and arena determined prior to the beginning of the season







Quarter

Semi

Final



1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

1

Celtics




1

1

1

1

2

Pistons




1

1

1

1

3

Lakers




1

1

1


4

Hornets




1

1

1


5

Spurs




1

1



6

Rockets




1

1



7

Suns




1

1



8

Jazz




1

1



9

Magic




1




10

Mavericks




1




11

Nuggets




1




12

Warriors




1




13

Cavaliers



1

1




14

Wizards



1

1




15

Raptors



1

1




16

Trailblazers


1

1

1




17

76ers


1

1





18

Kings


1

1





19

Hawks


1

1





20

Pacers


1

1





21

Nets

1

1






22

Bulls

1

1






23

Bobcats

1

1






24

Bucks

1

1






25

Knicks

1

1






26

Clippers

1







27

Grizzlies

1







28

Timberwolves

1







29

Supersonics/ Thunder

1







30

Heat

1









Now, I think there may be something here, but there’s no doubt in my mind that feedback from other fans could only add to this proposal. I’d love to hear your thoughts!