Monday, May 19, 2008

The Wacky NBA Playoff Schedule

Thanks to calculations likely inspired by the hallucinations of wunderkind mathematician John Nash from A Beautiful Mind, the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Hornets will play Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal series tonight after a refreshing three days off. They played game six last Thursday night and, for some reason, the NBA eschewed the natural logic of having Game 7 on Sunday (as part of a doubleheader with Game 7 of the Boston and Cleveland series), or even on Saturday (more on that below).

For the past several years, it seems as if the NBA playoff series have followed sort of natural progression: teams either played on Sunday, Wednesday & Friday or Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday (or even on a Monday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule). Sundays seemed to always be the home of pivotal Game sevens. Even this season, that routine seems to have been followed to some degree; for example, the Lakers-Jazz series started on Sunday, May 4, and Games 2 & 3 were on the successive Wednesday and Friday. Game 4 was on the following Sunday, May 11th, and Games 5 & 6 were on the next Wednesday and Friday.

Except that this year, had the Lakers been unable to close out the Jazz in Game 6 on Friday, they would be playing their Game 7 tonight, instead of Sunday.

Huh? Oh right--TNT. It's not the NBA that's driving the scheduling but the TV contracts with TNT and ESPN/ABC. Since TNT carries the majority of the playoff games leading up to the NBA Finals (and has exclusivity on one conference, usually the Western Conference), a lot of the games simply aren't aired on Saturday or Sunday afternoon because TNT shows most of their games at night. Instead of going up against a strong Sunday evening broadcast lineup, I guess TNT would rather have their games on a weeknight or Saturday night.

On the contrary, over on ESPN/ABC, the Celtics and the Cavs played on the natural schedule: last Monday, Wednesday, Friday AND Sunday. It isn't like these playoff schedules are made on the fly, from game to game, so one has to wonder why there is such a disparity in the scheduling of the games. It would seem that if the NBA was trying to build brand identity, they would always want to showcase some games on the same days of the week. Two Game 7s yesterday would've been very easy to promote and market to the fan base, but due to the wackiness of the TV contracts, the NBA end up in a situation where they must hope that more people will look and find the Spurs/Hornets series on a Monday night rather than a calm, lazy Sunday afternoon.

Another issue is the NBA's insistence on promoting the WNBA. In case you didn't notice, there were no games scheduled at all for this past Saturday. Why? Well, the WNBA had it's season opener that day. Woo-hoo! WNBA basketball: Expect Great.


David Stern and the other honchos over at the NBA have to realize that no average NBA fan cares anything whatsoever for the WNBA. The fan bases just aren't the same and they never will be. Instead of derailing the momentum created so far by an exciting NBA playoffs, the NBA could have scheduled a doubleheader for Saturday and had the Celtics-Cavs game followed by the WNBA opener. Then they could've promoted the ever-living fool out of the WNBA and might've gotten four or five extra people to watch the game.

Either way, all of this is bad for the game. If David Stern is listening, maybe he ought to consider the marketing of the NBA brand and address these issues soon as the TV contracts for both TNT and ABC/ESPN end this year.

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