LeBron James puts the NBA’s pandemic activity back in the spotlight

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during a game against the LA Clippers at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex on July 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

The biggest star in the National Basketball Association is not happy with the current state of the league.

LeBron James used social media this week to express his frustration with the injuries suffered by the NBA in its 2021 playoffs. Superstar players including James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and James’ teammate Anthony Davis have suffered key injuries in the 72-game campaign and the NBA playoffs. James suggested in his Twitter posts that the decision to start the 2020-21 season last Christmas was the culprit.

Without proper recovery, players can fall victim to soft tissue injuries due to muscle overuse. Wear and tear is one reason the NBA considered starting a new season in January, possibly Martin Luther King Jr.’s day, after finishing the 2019-20 season last October due to the pandemic.

James used Twitter to apologize to NBA fans who hadn’t seen the star players, including himself, as the Los Angeles Lakers were knocked out by the Phoenix Suns. And Davis’s injury may have cost him a chance to re-offend. James then tweeted:

But the “business side” is the real culprit. James is in the NBA and had to be saved to protect media rights.

Money rules everything

Few in NBA circles disagree with James and note that his points are valid, although some suggest demagoguery. Once again, James is out of the playoffs and staying in the spotlight, especially with his new movie “Space Jam” on the horizon, can only help.

Still, James has the power to complain about NBA affairs on social platforms, and few in the league office will publicly challenge him.

Defending the league’s position on the issue in a statement, NBA spokesman Mike Bass noted that injury rates “were virtually the same this season as they were during the 2019-20 season. , while entry-level players and All-Star players have missed games due to similar injury fares as the past three seasons.

Thinking back on the NBA’s decision to come back so quickly, one league executive pointed to the future impact of NBA media rights.

AT & T’s Disney and WarnerMedia pay the NBA about $ 2 billion a year, and the Christmas Day package is a major asset for advertisers to exploit. Therefore, losing those matches that day would be costly. If the NBA did not play, the networks would distribute “fictitious products” to traders. This means that the networks would provide additional advertising inventory to make up for the lost opportunity.

In addition, the networks could ask for rebates on the fees they pay to the NBA due to the loss of content. And at the time of renegotiation, they will calculate which ones are making good losses and reduce the NBA money. And if that happened, the league would end up feeling the financial pain.

The NBA will look to increase the fees significantly, possibly up to $ 75 billion, when its deal is struck after the 2024-25 season. So sacrificing content and losing fan engagement is risky. And the league was already missing 40% of its revenue without fans in arenas due to the pandemic. As a result, she knew the consequences and placed more importance on the health of her business than on James’ concerns.

“[The NBA] allowed the networks to say, “We can afford to give you a lot more if you start earlier,” said Charles Grantham, former National Basketball Players Association executive.

Players have lost around 20% of their salary due to the shortened season. That could have increased to 25% had the NBA started in January with 62 games. Few players can afford this loss or have the resources of James to maintain their lifestyle.

James did more $ 340 million in NBA contracts throughout his career, including $ 39 million this season, the sixth highest in the league. Include the $ 65 million per year in endorsements, and the overall compensation figure grows even more, according to Forbes,.

The average NBA player salary for the 2020-21 season was $ 7.4 million. And of the roughly 513 contracts, only 20 players earned more than $ 30 million, according to basket-reference.com.

The audience is too large

But Grantham, now director of the sports management program at Séton room, okay with James’s frustrations. He noted the team owners used fear tactics, mainly the force majeure clause, which threatened to decimate the NBA collective agreement with the players.

Grantham went on to point out that the team’s values ​​remained afloat during Covid-19 and questioned why the players should suffer losses. The Utah Jazz sold for $ 1.6 billion just days after the NBA bubble season ended last year. And in March, the Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to sell for just over $ 1 billion.

The NBA love to brag about the increase in the team’s values ​​since Steve Ballmer inflated the market in 2014 with his purchase of the Clippers. Before that, few people were interested in buying an NBA team, notes respected marketing manager Tony Ponturo. But the player unions do not receive any of the money from these franchise transactions.

Asked if NBA owners would have sacrificed the ABCs – and the team’s values ​​at risk – if the players resisted a December comeback, Grantham replied: “I don’t think the owners would have. “

And on the networking side, “Advertisers would adapt,” Ponturo said. “It was great for the NBA and the broadcasters to have the Christmas games, but with the NFL so strong, the advertisers would be fine.”

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James holds his ankle after injuring himself in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, March 20, 2021 in Los Angeles.

Marcio José Sanchez | AP Photo

Part of the frustration stems from the fact that players were told that a return in December was initially off the table. And NBA commissioner Adam Silver floated January as a comeback last September as Covid-19 was still spreading. The point is, the networks know that consumers rarely watch TV in the summer. And this year, above all, facing the Tokyo Olympics is not favorable to the league, ESPN or Turner Sports.

So the NBA pivoted, and it maybe saved its audience.

Overall, the NBA has averaged 1.3 million viewers throughout its domestic games on ESPN, ABC and TNT this season. Media executives suggest these numbers are dropping. But while injuries play a role, the number of viewers in the highest-grossing playoffs is on the rise – at least in the first round.

The league said it averaged around 3 million viewers in the first round, a 3% increase from the 2019 playoffs. And the NBA play-in tournament helped engage the players. fans for the playoffs. James and fellow NBA superstar Steph Curry averaged $ 5.6 million for the Lakers’ game against the Golden State Warriors. It was the most-watched contest on ESPN since the 2019 Western Conference tour.

When the audience is strong, the networks pay more. Now the NBA should be hoping for a big playoff game in the market, because a Milwaukee Bucks vs. Jazz game wouldn’t exactly be a draw.

But so far, without James, the young stars, whose Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks goalie, help the NBA stay relevant. The Philadelphia 76ers are on the verge of collapse in Doc Rivers’ freshman year. The Phoenix Suns are a success. Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks are a mess. And Durant keeps fans engaged.

Even James we acknowledged of Durant’s performance in Game 5 against the Bucks.

The NBA, while more profitable and exciting with James, survives without him. Injuries are always embarrassing and fans prefer the stars to play. But it’s entertainment, and the show goes on. Next season should help, however. The Warriors will be back; James and the Lakers too.

More importantly, stars will normally have time to rest and recover as they resume their activities.

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