The NBA faces an ongoing challenge: how to boost fan interest and revenue while teams prioritize resting star players over pushing for wins during the long season. To combat tanking for the top draft pick, the NBA changed its draft lottery odds in 2019, giving the three worst teams equal chances. They also incentivized finishing in the top six of each conference by guaranteeing playoff spots.
The NBA Could Shorten Its Season
The new NBA measures don’t appear to be foolproof. Some teams, like the Mavericks, opted to rest their stars and retain their lottery picks rather than chasing a playoff spot. The NBA fined such teams, but it appeared to have little impact. Now, with the launch of its In-Season Tournament that lacks substantial rewards (and stricter rules against resting healthy star players for nationally televised games), the NBA is facing a critical question: Should they reduce the number of games per season instead of relying on incentives and penalties?
Reducing the number of games would be a last resort for team owners and league officials. Each game generates millions in ticket sales and concessions, not to mention the billion-dollar TV rights deals. For instance, the NBA cashed in on the heavily watched Christmas games in 2020, despite concerns from players like LeBron James. Some argue that star players making significant money might accept fewer games, but it’s unclear if fringe NBA players would be willing to take a financial hit.
Fewer Games Equals Better Performances
Proponents of fewer games suggest it would lead to higher-quality performances, fewer blowouts, and more opportunities for teams to practice. Load management would decrease, and travel would be less demanding. With each game carrying more significance, teams might be more inclined to use their best players, potentially increasing fan interest.
However, this approach would diverge from other leagues. The NFL added a 17th regular-season game, college football expanded its playoffs, and the MLB included a third wild-card team. The NBA also introduced the play-in round and yet players are already physically and mentally drained from the lengthy season. Aside from requiring stars to play a minimum number of games for post-season awards eligibility, it’s uncertain what more can be done to motivate players and teams.