Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Steady-State NBA Equilibrium?

It's interesting to compare across professional sports the viewing enjoyment of the each sport's successful teams by general public . The reason this comes to mind is that I'm repeatedly reminded by radio host after radio host of the potential sleepwalk of an NBA Finals should the San Antonio Spurs end up squaring off against the Detroit Pistons. What's interesting to me is that these two franchises are probably the Western and Eastern Conferences' most successful franchises over the last decade, yet they play probably the most viewer-unfriendly style of basketball. Doesn't this have to be a pretty large concern for the powers that be in the NBA?

The usual answer that comes from this line of reasoning is that the true fans of basketball will enjoy style of play offered by the Spurs and Pistons. Well, that may be, but in terms of generating viewership-- and depending what Justin wants to divulge, he's got some interesting comments about the NBA and its operating goals-- what matters are the marginal viewers. Short of going back to four corners basketball, diehard fans are going to watch anyway. It's those fans deciding between watching a NBA playoff game and a NHL playoff game, or American Idol, that matter-- and these viewers are being pushed away.

I guess the larger question is: Should anything be done? It could just be that we're in a short-term scenario where the most unappealing teams are the most successful. The Bulls were largely enjoyed in the 90s, as were the Lakers and Celtics in the 80s. Maybe it's a small market/large market perception issue? It could also be that success breeds contempt; if I remember correctly, both the Spurs and Pistons were well received when they began to have large-scale success. Rules have been changed over the last few years to nudge the game towards a more up-tempo, viewer friendly version, but not enough to bounce the best teams from the perch.

I personally am not a huge professional basketball fan, and I think one of the worst things that happened to the NBA in the recent past was Golden State missing the playoffs this year. I'm curious to see how this plays out in the near future. I have a feeling it's just a short term lull...but pressure will mount if exciting teams don't begin to have large scale success.

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