This is the best time of the year in sports. That’s not a debatable point or opinion, it’s a fact. NFL season is under way. MLB playoffs are here. NCAA football teams are making their case. The NBA season opens this year on Oct. 17. But the NBA is almost like the stepchild of the sports world right now. Why is that?
One of the main reasons is football. With the NFL and NCAA football seasons starting about a month and a half before the NBA, they have a head start. Their respective seasons are in full swing when the NBA starts. NFL teams are now making the picture clearer and NCAA teams are jockeying for poll positioning. Football is also the most popular sport in this country. Basketball is so far back in the rearview mirror, it looks like a dot rather than another vehicle.
Another reason there’s little fanfare for the start of the NBA season is the MLB playoffs are getting intense. The American and National League Championship Series will both be under way by the time the NBA opens up. Last year when the Astros were making their run, Houston barely paid attention to the Rockets. This year looks as if it’ll be a repeat of last year as the Astros are already waiting on the Red Sox/Yankees winner in the ALCS. They’re getting ready to defend their World Series title. Not since the ’98-’00 Yankees has a team won back to back titles in MLB, and they won three in a row. I highly doubt anyone pays much attention to anything outside of the Astros if they make it back to the World Series.
The NBA made changes to its season structure to start about one to two weeks earlier than normal last season. They did so in part to lengthen the season to cut down on the amount of back to back games teams were playing. It’s really helped the players, but has been sort of annoying to fans. Your team may play on Tuesday and not have another game until Friday, or even Saturday in some cases.
One other thing that’s hurting the NBA right now is competitive balance. Most fans, and some “experts,” tend to think along the lines of “until the Warriors break up, they’re the overwhelming favorite to win it all.” Not many people think anyone outside the Warriors has a shot. Sure, there will be some who try the “hot take” or make the ‘sexy/chic pick” and say the Celtics or Rockets or Sixers will win it all, but do they truly believe that? I highly doubt it.
So what can the NBA do to make their season opening matter more? I have a few ideas:
1-Make the opening day a big deal by having compelling matchups similar to Christmas day games. Imagine opening day back when Shaq and Kobe were beefing? What about a Pistons/Bulls matchup opening day in late ‘80s/early ‘90s?
2-The games should all take place on ABC, the league’s national broadcast partner and should be streamed for free online somewhere. Making these games readily viewable to the masses creates more interest.
3-A better marketing strategy will help. I propose more commercials during NCAA football, MLB and NFL games. This way, they’re taking advantage of sports that more eyes are on at that time of year.
The NBA has done a ton of things right over the years. It is the world’s second most popular sport. But in this country, it’s losing ground to MLB and continually falling further behind football. The NFL and MLB have done their opening days so well for so long, that they have equity. The NBA still hasn’t gotten this right. Hopefully, they will take some suggestions I’ve given and build upon them.