The NBA lost more than $1 billion in revenue during a disastrous 2019-20 season, and it could be headed for another economic blow if the start date for the 2020-21 season is pushed back to January.
After suspending action for multiple months following a COVID-19 outbreak on March 11, the NBA returned in July. Due to the unprecedented change caused by the pandemic, the NBA Finals didn’t end until October. Now, with the normal schedule for the 2020-21 season already thrown out, the league and players union are in the midst of difficult negotiations regarding when to start next season.
The start date for next season has bounced around in recent months, with target dates ranging from early December to February. In August, there was a growing belief the NBA could push its regular-season schedule to January, increasing the odds that a vaccine for COVID-19 is ready.
In the latest negotiations between the NBA and NBA Players Association, the league has pushed for next season to begin around Christmas Day. Under the NBA’s plan, it would play a 72-game season and the NBA Finals would conclude before the Summer Olympics in July.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said it was unlikely the league would pause its season to participate in the Olympics. It came after concern that starting in January would lead to star players skipping the Olympics.
As the league pushes to start next season on Dec. 22, the players union is targeting a tipoff date in mid-January. By pushing the first games of the season back a month, players would have more time to prepare after many teams played into September and October.
However, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA is warning a start date in January could have drastic financial consequences. Specifically, it could cost the league up to $1 billion in potential revenue. If that happened, with the NBA losing more than $2 billion total in two years, it would crater salaries even further.
In the NBA’s assessment, delaying the season another month means it would have to create a shortened schedule for next season. It would result in fewer games to broadcast and for fans to attend, cutting into potential revenue for next season. Even in the NBA’s projected best-case scenario, it could still potentially lose $500 million.
On Friday, the NBA and NBPA pushed back the deadline to come to an agreement for the fourth consecutive time. If talks don’t improve, owners have the ability to terminate the CBA through a force majeure clause, thanks to the pandemic.
For now, players remain against starting the season around Christmas Day. However, with so much money at stake for all involved, an earlier start date might eventually be required to avoid a disastrous outcome.