The Value of Extending an NBA Playoff Series

The Value of Extending an NBA Playoff Series

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This article originally appeared in The Lombardian, a Tallahassee-based blog.

Many arguments have been fielded recently regarding the somewhat capricious nature of the National Basketball Association. This is particularly evident in the case of Draymond Green, who received a suspension barring him from Game 5. But I’m not here to debate the right or wrong of a casual shot to the crown jewels, and especially not a second or third one. We’re here to talk pure profit in scenarios where the NBA’s decision-making is called into question.

The short term benefits are paltry. More sold seats, more merchandise, more food products. Oracle Stadium has 19,596 seats, and the Q 20,562. That’s not a whole lot of people compared to some football stadiums, especially college ones. Someone did in fact purchase two tickets for almost $100,000, but even if every single seat in the O sold for that price — an absolutely absurd amount of money, with the average seat reportedly being fifty times less than that — it would still be dwarfed by the price of the new television deal, which clocked in at $24 billion over the next nine years.

So, without getting too much into the money end of things, let’s make some heavy assumptions based off limited information. The Warriors and Cavaliers have already sold a ridiculous amount of merchandise, placing first and third in popularity this year. Maybe the playoff totals unseat the Bulls at second. As a better example, the Lakers brought in $1.2 million during Kobe’s last game. I would be very surprised if that number is beaten, even if we include a few hundred thousand more for food and parking. With that in mind, Game 7 might net the Oracle less than $50 million all told including ticket sales. We’d need more than fifty Game 7s to match the total the NBA is taking home from the new TV deal, which hasn’t even started yet.

Monetary benefits off the table, the NBA would be sacrificing its integrity (something already bereft from many sports organizations, like the NFL) for one night. A colossal, Black Sox-esque scandal would ensue. Is it worth irreparably damaging their reputation and corporate structure? I highly doubt it.

The long term benefits are more esoteric, but absolutely not worthless. The NBA currently has television deals with ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports (TNT), and while they won’t have to technically negotiate again until the end of 2025, obviously they would be interested in leveraging their position now. Let’s talk conference room, eight years from now. An NBA representative can break down to interested media parties the number of games each playoff series went to. Series of six or seven games are probably ideal for money-making purposes, and ESPN/ABC and TNT are certainly interested for the purpose of advertising. Is this a self-interested position? Absolutely, but we are talking about entertainment after all. A modicum of authenticity is sacrificed every day when referees make disappointing calls. When a team calls a timeout and the ball magically moves to half court. Why? It is the ultimate manifestation of our entertainment. The art is sometimes dictated by its audience, inasmuch as the audience is mesmerized by the art.

The NBA always acts in the interest of money. The breakdown for the 2015-2016 nationally televised schedule was a joke. Deadspin reported seven games for the Knicks, and 25 for the Cavaliers and Warriors. Nineteen for the Lakers? I love Mamba, but the city of Los Angeles’ sweeter setup lies with the Clippers, who had roughly the same amount with immensely more talent. Some teams aren’t even included on the nationally televised list, and their space (all else equal) is used instead to accommodate superior teams such as the Thunder or Spurs. One can hardly look at this breakdown and call it fair. It is in the interest of ratings, and to continue the financial success and entertainment value of the NBA it must be so.

Did the NBA suspend Green because of his actions? Absolutely. I don’t think that’s the wrinkle here. The real purchase is on their choice to suspend him in an elimination scenario for the Cavaliers. Why not in an elimination scenario for his own Warriors in the Western Conference Finals series against the Thunder? Maybe something exists here. But the performances of Kyrie Irving and especially Lebron James throughout the past three games suggest there was much more at stake than Money in the Bank. I don’t think a fix can will a contested Irving three during the final minute of play, or fabricate the total look of defeat on the babyfaced Chef. The NBA is far off from World Wrestling Entertainment, as much as Pat Riley would make a fantastic heel manager.

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