The NBA being forced to suspend its season amid the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest in a harsh line of losses the league has had to endure this year
By Stan Sy | Graphics by Tricia Guevara
There’s a superstitious belief that the worst things come in threes. After the year that the NBA has had so far, it’s hard not to believe in it anymore.
The NBA announced that it was suspending its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. About 11 hours after the announcement, his All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell also tested positive. Over the weekend, Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood also tested positive. Just this morning (Manila time), Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that NBA owners and executives are looking at a best-case scenario of a mid-to-late June resumption of the season.
That’s bad news for a league whose regular season’s last quarter has yet to be played and an entire post-season that’s bound to be rescheduled if the season even resumes at all. There’s sadness, frustration and annoyance for basketball fans everywhere, who won’t get to have our daily dose of hoops. But that’s nothing compared to all the money that’s going to be lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s unclear right now exactly how much money will be lost because of the suspension. Just last week, the NBA was contemplating pushing through with scheduled games in empty arenas—starting with the game that the Golden State Warriors were supposed to play against the Brooklyn Nets. Even with that in play, ESPN’s Bobby Marks says it “could cost the league an estimated $500 million in BRI (basketball-related income), even before the playoffs.”
Adam Silver in the past 6 months
• Handled the $200M loss from the China controversy
• Dealt with the basketball tragedy of losing Kobe Bryant / David Stern
• Re-structured the All-Star Game
• Coronavirus infects 2 NBA players
• Calls for Indefinite League Suspension pic.twitter.com/ZjMvWqO1LG
— Hilltop Hoops (@HilltopNBA) March 13, 2020
Basketball-related income is a very broad term that covers so many things, from ticket sales (from pre-season to post-season) to broadcast rights, merchandise and concession sales, arena-naming rights, seat licenses and gambling revenues. That’s a lot of money that trickles across multiple stakeholders, with some of them being very wealthy businessmen and athletes whose net worths are worth millions (or billions) themselves.
Who this hurts directly is everyone else who doesn’t own or isn’t a multi-million dollar brand—basically, people whose jobs revolve around the NBA like security personnel, arena staff, parking attendants, concessions staff, arena dancers, anyone who works on a part-time or hourly basis and relies on NBA games as a source of income. Not having games during this time of the year also affects businesses near these arenas like bars, restaurants and stores that sell team merchandise and apparel.
Who this hurts directly is everyone else who doesn’t own or isn’t a multi-million dollar brand—basically, people whose jobs revolve around the NBA like security personnel, arena staff, parking attendants, concessions staff, arena dancers, anyone who works on a part-time or hourly basis and relies on NBA games as a source of income
It’s one of the toughest years ever for the NBA, which is the third-most profitable professional sports league in the world—and it didn’t start off on the most auspicious note either.
Last October, with a couple of weeks before the regular season was set to begin, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted an image in support of the protesters in Hong Kong. This fueled a backlash from China, which resulted in the Chinese Basketball Association suspending its professional relationship with the Rockets. Not long after that, several of the team’s sponsors pulled out and its partners announced they wouldn’t be broadcasting games. Five days after Morey tweeted—and subsequently deleted—his pro-Hong Kong sentiment, all of the NBA’s official Chinese partners had cut ties with the league.
— Norman Hermant (@NormanHermant) October 7, 2019
Never mind the socio-political implications at the time—given the recent events, this issue seems so far in the rearview mirror. Last January, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks wrote that the Morey incident cost the league between $150 million and $200 million. That figure affects next season’s salary cap—the maximum amount that teams are allowed to spend in player salaries—because it is always based on revenue from the previous season.
If the season even resumes, there’s already a lot of lost money with the suspension of games. Think about advertisements that were supposed to run during televised game broadcasts. Without any games, how or when will these advertisements run? Where does a network’s obligation to fulfill its end of the deal end, especially when it wasn’t their call to suspend the season? Make no mistake: The NBA absolutely made the right call here, especially after Gobert and Mitchell’s results came back positive. Everyone’s health and safety should still take precedence, after all.
It was supposed to be a year for more budding talent to rise while kicking off a new era post-Warriors dynasty. Instead, the NBA has taken hit after hit emotionally and financially. And while it isn’t the only league in the world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that its season has to be suspended for at least a month, with its resumption uncertain at this point, is the last thing the NBA needed
But on a more somber note, the NBA—and basketball at large—was only beginning to cope with the loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. It was such a traumatizing and heartbreaking event that didn’t just hit the city of Los Angeles. It was a gut punch to everybody who ever loved basketball. A Lakers/Clippers game scheduled days after Bryant’s death was postponed just because the Lakers organization was still in mourning.
The NBA was supposed to enter a new era this new decade, especially at a time when the league had stumbled upon a different albeit welcome type of parity among stars distributed across teams. It was supposed to be a year for more budding talent to rise while kicking off a new era post-Warriors dynasty. Instead, the NBA has taken hit after hit emotionally and financially. And while it isn’t the only league in the world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that its season has to be suspended possibly until June, with its resumption uncertain at this point, is the last thing the NBA needed.
It’s like the NBA just couldn’t catch a break this year.
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