Sports as we know them have changed due to Coronavirus. The NBA was the first professional sports league to suspend their season, and the NHL and MLB followed suit. I’m not an NBA guy. You know that if you listened to Thursday’s emergency “Coronavirus shuts down MLB” episode of The Bronx Pinstripes Show, when I repeatedly forgot who the jerk was who made a mockery of touching everything after a press conference amid Coronavirus hysteria, and what team he played for (Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz).
But with the NBA shutting down its regular season, an interesting topic has been discussed: Basketball could shift its schedule to the summer and play the finals in August. This is not something they thought of in response to Coronavirus, but actually something they’ve considered for a long time.
Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston earlier this week, talked about a plan to shift the NBA regular season to December, which would put its entire playoffs in the summer instead of the spring.
“Relevance equals revenue,” Koonin said. “We’ve got to create the most relevance, and the revenue will fix itself.
Under Koonin’s proposal, the start of the NBA season would shift from mid-October to mid-December, after college football has completed its regular season and has begun its bowl season. More important, the shift would allow the NBA to avoid having to compete with the NFL’s regular season, as it currently does in the first 2½ months before the “unofficial” start to the league’s calendar on Christmas Day.
“Hopefully this virus runs its course over the next 60 days or so, and then at that point, we can start making decisions about does the NBA play games, what our schedule looks like, how would we progress from there?
Cuban responded “absolutely” to Rachel Nichols, who asked him if he believes the season can continue in the summer and conclude in August.
“Because there’s not a lot of competition — there’s only regular-season baseball — I don’t think necessarily until August, but I can easily see us playing the last seven-to-10 games of the regular season to get everybody back on course and then going right into the playoffs and going into July, if not August.”
The NBA might be able to test the waters if things are cleared-up in the summer, and that would be bad news for Major League Baseball.
What it means for baseball
Off the bat (get it?), this would be bad for baseball. They compete with the NBA and NHL playoffs in the spring and NFL in the fall, but from June through mid-September, MLB is the only game in town.
Apparently NBA ratings – and this should not come as a surprise – are not nearly as good in the fall when they compete with the NFL as they are in the spring, when they compete with baseball and hockey. The NFL is nearly too big to fail, so they don’t have to worry about ratings competition, but the other sports do. Baseball has the luxury of being the only option in the dog days of summer. What happens if that luxury goes away and they have compete with playoff basketball?
Adapt or die.
Change is good
I’m a baseball fan, but unlike many people on twitter (yes, I know it’s not good to judge public opinion based on twitter), I don’t think the sport is perfect. Individual games are too long. The regular season is too long, especially when you consider the recent introduction of the one-game Wild Card round which boils a 162-game marathon into a 1-game do-or-die sprint for 4 teams. I like the Wild Card game because it’s exciting (the 2017 and ’18 WC games are two of the most memorable sporting events I’ve ever attended). But you can make an argument that a 162-game season is unnecessary in deciding which teams belong in the playoffs. If MLB ever implemented their round-robin playoff tournament that was discussed to distract from the Astros scandal (probably), it would further diminish the regular season. It seems like baseball is moving towards “made-for-TV” playoff viewing experiences, so why not do so in the regular season too?
2020 might give us a 100-game regular season. Baseball is never going to eliminate 38% of its games, but why can’t it eliminate 10%? I’d gladly add more playoff games to the schedule because those are better to watch than a Yankees-Royals game in August. And guess what? MLB will come out ahead because the playoff games will drive better ratings.
There are other things MLB can experiment with this season, assuming play resumes. What about mandatory double headers once or twice a month? That removes length off the schedule without compromising games. What about a points system similar to the one the NHL has? That creates more regular season drama and playoff races we perhaps otherwise miss.
Baseball is going to have to do something if the NBA does actually shift its schedule to end in the summer, because that Yankees-Royals August game I mentioned earlier has no chance to compete with a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals game.