The National Basketball Association last week began the
challenging task of trying to lure its fans back to arenas and television sets after a
long, six-month lockout.
The league will try to convince fans that a three-month,
50-game regular season is as exciting as a full year of NBA action -- not an impossible
prospect, but certainly not a slam dunk, either.
In an effort to tackle such a task, one would figure that
the NBA would leverage all of its potential television and video outlets in an effort to
provide fans with the most extensive coverage of the season possible.
The best way to win fans back is to get them to experience
as much of the product as they can or want to, and to hope that they are as entertained as
they were prior to the lockout.
The league was able to work out a deal to provide Turner
Network Television and TBS Superstation with as many games as both networks could carry
during the shortened season. It also provided broadcast outlet NBC with its choice of the
best games available for its Sunday and primetime schedule.
In addition, the NBA offered a discounted out-of-market
package to the direct-broadcast satellite industry so that it could maximize revenues and
pacify its DBS viewers.
But the league forgot one major distribution technology
that was ready, willing and able to help it to win back fans and provide incremental
revenue: Instead of letting pay-per-view get into the game, it once again relinquished the
technology to the pine.
Prior to the lockout, the league inquired about
distributing its out-of-market package to a few cable operators with the marketing savvy
and the channel capacity to make it work. But its unwillingness to be flexible with the
package forced otherwise enthusiastic operators to pass on the deal.
At the time, no one could have envisioned that the
often-bitter lockout would threaten to cancel the season. Nor did anyone even question
whether fans would support the league once the season finally began.
It has yet to be seen how much of a toll the lockout has
taken on the NBA's once unquestionably loyal fan base. But the league could have earned
some major points with cable subscribers if it would have offered some part of its
"NBA League Pass" package to operators.
Not only would it have generated unbudgeted revenue, but it
would have allowed those NBA cable fans to watch games from outside of their region.
With the truncated schedule favoring intraconference
matchups, a lot of fans won't have as many chances to see teams in the other divisions. A
cable PPV package would have provided those fans with a chance to see all of the teams and
all of the league's major and rising stars.
The NBA is going to have to work hard to restore fans'
confidence in the sport. PPV probably could have made its job a little easier.