The NBA and ESPN announced that the Golden State Warriors game versus the Memphis Grizzlies has been moved to a nationally televised game on Saturday. The Warriors have been must-see TV for most of the season and the NBA is putting one of their final games up against their marquee game on ABC — which is the Cavaliers v. Bulls. It’s smart for the league to provide the game to fans, but other options may have been better for the growth of their digital distribution brand.
Normally when teams are looking to make history, leagues and media try as hard as possible to provide the game via a national TV partner. A prime example of this was when the Patriots were going for a 16-0 regular season record and faced off against the Giants in their final regular season game. The contest was scheduled on NFL Network only. It was the NFL’s hope that the game would force negotiations with carriers that at that time balked at the NFL’s sub-fee. Eventually the NFL realized their error — which was helped by political pressure — and provided a simulcast on NBC and CBS. It was the highest rated regular season football game ever at the time.
The NBA has tonight’s Spurs game on TNT and Saturday’s Grizzlies ESPN, the problem comes up if the Warriors win both games. Sunday’s game at San Antonio could be record breaking for a few reasons. If the Warriors win they will tie the 72 win mark of the 96 Bulls with the chance to win 73 in their final game. If the Spurs win, they could set a record going undefeated at home — the 86 Celtics currently hold that record at 40-1. The game is on NBATV. The Warriors v. Grizzlies game to set the record isn’t even on national TV.
There is an easy answer to all of this. The NBA should provide anyone who wants to watch a free NBA League Pass log-in for Warriors games. This helps in a few ways. First, it educates casual fans about a digital distribution offering. This could lead to more people watching games via the NBA’s digital distribution channel. Second, it allows the NBA to collect more contact data for marketing purposes — email addresses, location, demo etc.. Finally, it will be a good test for exactly how many fans are willing to watch via internet. As leagues expand their distribution rights and methods, something like this is would be a strong test case.
The other option is to just move around the schedule — which the NBA and ESPN have already done for this Saturday’s game. This really doesn’t provide any business intelligence or fiscal return down the line. It would be because the league just felt like being nice to the fans. There is a way the NBA can have its proverbial cake and eat it to: put the rest of the Warriors season on League Pass for free.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.