Of the four major sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has the widest appeal globally. In today's digital world, it isn't hard to stream a game online via League Pass for anyone to follow his or her favorite team, whether in America, Africa, Europe, or Asia.
Earlier this month, the Raptors and Magic played a game in London. While covering the game, USA Today Sports NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt reported that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants to experiment with weekday morning games so they can appeal more to an international audience.
In trying to get games on TV at a better times overseas, Adam Silver said NBA will explore idea of experimenting with weekday morning games.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) January 15, 2016
I'm not exactly sure what "weekday morning games" mean specifically, as in where these games would be played. But this certainly goes in line with Commissioner Silver's willingness to experiment with new concepts to spread the game across the world.
Understanding why the NBA wants more games during overseas primetime hours
I totally get why the NBA wants to do this. The league wants fans from all over the world to be able to watch more live games live at a convenient hour for them.
Last April, Nick Bilka interviewed Jules, a Dutchman who is a hardcore Wizards fan. In the interview, Jules talked about he followed the team while living in Western Europe:
I had to get up at two o'clock in the morning, go back to bed around 5, 5:30 and wake up at 7 to go to work...In between, I was following the team on Bullets Forever, Washington Post and NBA.com.
Fans like Jules and many others are exactly who Commissioner Silver wants to target when he talked about playing games on weekday mornings.
In European countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France, a weekday Wizards game that starts at 7 p.m. ET starts at 1 a.m. Central European Time (CET). If a game is played in the West Coast, that game already starts late for us, at around 10 p.m. ET. But for Dutch, Belgian, German, and French Wizards fans, the game starts at 4 a.m. CET and won't end until 6:30 a.m. if it doesn't go to overtime.
In Asian markets like Beijing, China, there is a 13-hour time difference between there and Washington, D.C. The 7 p.m. ET game would start at 8 a.m. for them while a 10 p.m. ET game would start at 11 a.m. That is during the workday, and these fans cannot watch the game live, at least comfortably.
Why weekday morning games are a problem, at least in the Western Hemisphere
I am all for the NBA's globalization. The league must do what it can to appeal to fans who do not live in the United States or Canada. But I do not want any games played during the morning or afternoon hours at any of the teams' home venues.
If the Wizards play a game at 8 p.m. CET, that game would have to be played at 2 p.m. ET if they are playing at home or another city in the Eastern Time Zone. If the Wizards are playing a game in the West Coast, an 8 p.m. CET game will be at 11 a.m. PT if they are in the West Coast. If a game is played at 8 p.m. Beijing time, that is 7 a.m. ET or 4 a.m. PT.
When weekday games are played at a venue outside of primetime hours, the stands are emptier when the game is during a non-federal holiday. Sure, many people will have the day off. But for those who work in the private sector, they won't be able to go to the game.
We don't have to go far to see how weekday matinees work in real life. The WNBA does this already on a regular basis. All 12 teams hold one or two daytime games during the weekdays.
On the one hand, this is a success. These game often have larger crowds for their matinee games because they are used for summer camps and other kid groups. But on the other hand, season ticket holders often cannot make it to matinees because they have to work, so the crowds tend to be made of a bunch of random campers, not season ticket holders.
I don't think the NBA will ever have a "school field trip" game or anything like that. But NBA teams' season ticket holders shouldn't have to take a day off of work simply to watch a weekday game.
An Idea: Have every NBA team play two regular season games outside of the U.S. and Canada
In order to save a potential headache of games starting when people are starting or are in the middle of their day jobs, my suggestion is big, yet very simple.
Every NBA team should play two games in Europe or Asia, the two markets that have the most NBA-ready facilities. Here are the benefits:
Overseas games will be held during primetime hours for that market - All games held in Europe, Asia, or elsewhere will continue to be held in the evening. If that turns into a morning game for us here in Washington and the USA, so be it. But season ticket holders will not have to choose between going to work or going to a game.
Two internationally located games ensure that every NBA team only loses one true home game - I assume that the NBA regular season schedule will remain at 82 games and 41 home games per team. If there are two games located internationally for every team, there will be 80 games played at home and the road at the team's regular venues. Half of that total is 40. It's only fair that every team chips in for an initiative like this.
Where should these games be played?
These games should be played at NBA or NHL-style arenas, most of which are located in Europe and Asia where possible.
To expand the global reach, however, games could also be held at an indoor concert hall, in particular for countries where there is no NBA-style arena. The NBA should not hold itself to having games solely at 20,000 seat arenas with 4K mega screens but the facilities themselves should be newer if at all possible.
However, to keep things simple in the beginning, some cities that have NBA-style facilities should hold more regular season games for fans. The non-American/Canadian markets with an NBA-esque or near-NBA-esque facility include but aren't limited to:
- The O2 Arena in London, United Kingdom
- Manchester Arena in Manchester, United Kingdom
- O2 World in Berlin, Germany
- AccorHotels Arena in Paris, France
- Ülker Sports Arena in Istanbul, Turkey
- O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic
- LeSports Center in Beijing, China
- Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico
These cities could also host an internationally-based NBA All-Star Game, which Commissioner Silver is interested in exploring. That also could expand the list of venues to include indoor soccer stadiums, considering that the NBA already held the 2010 All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) in Dallas. Holding a major event like the NBA All-Star Game at a venue like a major indoor soccer stadium will expand the game further than ever before.
What do you all think about the NBA open to the idea of having weekday morning games? Assuming they are held at regular venues, I'm totally against it because many fans won't be able to take the day off of work just to watch a game. But if there are more games held overseas during their primetime hours, I won't be opposed if every team takes part. Let us know in the comments below.