By Andrew Gilstrap
After a work stoppage that lasted nearly five months, the NBA’s first day appeared to commence without a hitch. The league held five widely televised games last Sunday, Dec. 25. Wasn’t the league’s patronage supposed to have taken a hit after the perceived greed that cost teams nearly two months of the regular season? If there were boycotts of this NBA season, it is hard to tell from the reported numbers on Christmas. On opening day, arenas were full and television ratings were encouraging. The efficiency has largely continued throughout the week.
It wasn’t hard to see some of the backlash over this lockout across sports websites. Many users claimed they were finished with supporting the NBA or they had highly negative things to say about the league going forward. However, once the season convened and as it got closer to opening day, the negativity mostly dissipated and people began to talk basketball again.
Of course, fans vowed similar personal boycotts of the NFL during its lockout, but there is little evidence that those fans followed through. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reports this year’s NFL viewership is down only 1 percent so far from last year’s ratings, which were record numbers, by the way. The NFL’s Christmas-weekend schedule (most of its games on the 24th) cleared a path for the NBA to see a TV ratings success on Dec. 25.
Fans are talking a big game, but their actions aren’t convincing professional sports leagues to change their ways. For the NBA, perhaps the success of last season’s playoffs was enough to carry over into this season, even with the work stoppage. Or maybe fans tried a viewing diet of only college basketball during November and realized something was missing. Or maybe even the movement of Chris Paul to the Clippers or Tyson Chandler to the Knicks gave basketball fans some bolstered teams to check for this season. Casual fans often decry the NBA’s regular season for being too long, so perhaps this truncated 66-game schedule gives them incentive to follow this season’s action.
The first three of the above scenarios drew me back to my usual fanhood. I held out hope until early November that the players and owners could reach an agreement to save the full season. Once that didn’t happen, I grew complacent and didn’t hear about the post-Thanksgiving agreement until a couple days after. I went through another week of insouciance before the enticement returned and I began talking pro hoops again and setting up a fantasy league. I sent out the emails to my league-mates from last year, and seven of them signed up instantly. Enough of the politics and the posturing: We were ready for basketball. So were others, as we’re seeing.
This afternoon, I saw a tweet reporting that 25 of the first 32 games of the NBA season sold out. The report further says the first 32 games were at a 99.2 percent capacity — a number 22 percent higher than in the 2010-2011 season.
The demand for pro basketball appears to still be high. Can the engagement continue? It’s off to a solid start; that’s for sure.