With the presumed ratification of the new CBA, the time for innovation has come and gone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream of ways the NBA could be a more profitable and awesome league. The spaces most ripe for economic growth are in media and international markets.
We don’t know exactly how it will happen, but because people must sit through the commercials, the value of broadcast rights for live sports is destined to grow. Whether you’re watching the game on your 60 inch 5-d TV with lifelike smells, or on a four-inch smartphone screen, you’re watching because knowing what happens when it happens matters.
HD has helped pro basketball become and increasingly telegenic sport, but the NBA also has a major leg up on other American pro sports because of its international appeal. The NFL and MLB do not have counterparts in a handful of other countries that can generate a major amount of viewership, interest, and revenue. Like soccer, basketball has the potential to be a truly global game. The NBA can speed this process, and stuff its coffers, by fostering the kind of global interaction that major soccer tournaments encourage.
Ask any international soccer fan where the best soccer in the world is, and the immediate response will be The UEFA Champions League (for the uninitiated: the Champions League is a 32 team tournament with the top club teams in Europe).
There’s no better way for the NBA to snatch the interest of the world’s basketball fans than by giving them a chance to see their favorite local teams compete against the best in the NBA. The Dream Team didn’t capture the hearts of little boys in Spain because Jordan and Magic were playing together, but because they were playing against their countrymen in games broadcast locally.
Now what if at the end of their seasons (which would cut down to 68 regular season games in order to create this revenue-generating tournament), the Heat, Bulls, Mavericks, Thunder, and two other teams that played their way in through a three game mini-tournament took on the best from the Greek, Spanish, Israeli, Lithuanian, Russian, French, Turkish, Serbian, Italian, and Slovakian leagues?
During the doldrums of summer baseball: Miami Heat versus Real Madrid, live from Rome. On the line: the title of professional team in the world.
Simply knowing that NBA players and teams are special isn’t enough for basketball fans in those countries to desire access to regular season NBA games. They need to see LeBron up close, to watch Joakim Noah, who plays for the French National Team, grab 20 rebounds.
Would the Mavericks’ passing and shooting attack still thrive in an international setting? Would the Heat’s skirmish attacks be even more deadly on a smaller court?
I don’t know, and that’s the point.
It wouldn’t be an easy sell. Free agency rules would require tweaking. The players would need to be convinced, probably a less grueling season and more money, to spend their offseasons on duty. Perhaps a cut of international revenue and increased marketing opportunities abroad would be enough to get players on board. In any event, the league-wide economic gains are self-evident. International TV broadcast rights and a genuine relationship with international fans would make the NBA a truly global league in both personnel and revenue streams. Not to mention, this tournament could inspire more bigtime international money to replace the likes of the brothers Maloof and Robert Sarver.
From an investment standpoint, this would certainly cost the league far less than maintaining that big bonfire of American currency in China. The league could make and share revenue right now while paving inroads to the hearts of basketball lovers throughout Europe and eventually Asia and South America.
Mid July to mid August is perhaps weakest month in the sports calendar. With an international club tournament, basketball would dominate the international sports conversation in a way not even the FIBA World Championships do today. Home run highlights are by and large lame. Every SportsCenter top play for an entire month would come from this tournament.
The NBA’s international marketing is built on the premise that NBA teams and players are the best in the world. If the league really wants to capitalize on foreign markets, it’s time the NBA puts its Best League on Earth belt on the line by allowing foreign teams and their fans a shot at the champs.