Last week, the NBA laid out a plan for the 2020-21 season to begin around December 21 with 72 regular season games, a play-in tournament, and the playoffs ending before the Tokyo Olympics in July to allow players and coaches the opportunity to participate, as well as avoid having to share TV ratings. At the time, it was reported that the National Basketball Players Association was receptive to the idea, but both sides are reported still far apart.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the league has pushed back the date that will allow them to terminate the collective bargaining agreement in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic back to next Friday (Nov. 6), but an agreement as yet to be made even as mounting budgetary losses loom large, especially with the likelihood of no fans in the arena at least to start the season looming large. The league fears the longer they wait, the greater the loss.
And without assurances that the pandemic will allow for fans in arenas this season — and projections that their absence could cost the league more than $4 billion in lost revenue — the NBA fears delaying the start of the 2020-21 season until January could cost the league an additional $500 million to $1 billion in revenue losses next season and beyond, sources said.
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The NBA and NBPA are still at odds over a start date to the season, with the union resisting thus far a league plan to open a shortened 72-game regular season on Dec. 22 and complete the NBA Finals before the Summer Olympics in July, sources said.
The union has countered with a mid-January start, but wants to continue discussing the issue with its players, sources said. There is a level of impatience growing within the NBA, which wants to get a deal executed and get plans for a new season moving quickly, sources said.
Players already know some of their salaries for next season will have to be escrowed to make up some of the difference (same on the league’s side), but that’s only one part of the negotiations that need help. There is also doubt about starting the new season only seven weeks after the previous one ended, especially for teams who played well into the playoffs.
Significant gaps remain between the NBA and NBPA on how the league will account for reductions in players’ salaries in light of the significant financial losses for 2019-20 and steeper projections of losses next year, sources said. The NBA and NBPA split the basketball related income (BRI), and the league recently told teams that 40% of that revenue could be lost without gate receipts this season, sources said. The NBA’s revenue was down 10% to $8.3 billion for the 2019-20 season, according to data provided to teams from the league.
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A mid-January start around Martin Luther King Day would take the league’s season past the July Summer Olympics and into the summer months, when the league fears television ratings would plummet. The NBA is estimating significant financial turmoil if the league has to compete with the Summer Olympics for television ratings in July and then be forced to adjust the NBA calendar for the 2021-22 season, sources said.
A December start is not off the table yet, but there’s a lot of work to be done and agreements to be made before that (or any start, anytime) can happen. Both sides have the right to tear up the current collective bargaining agreement, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If it does, another lockout could be on the books, putting next season in doubt of happening at all, and potentially causing even greater financial woes to the league and players. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, as surely neither side wants to lose more money than they already have.