As the 2019-20 NBA season resumes, more than $1 billion is at stake

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Jul 28, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; An overview of ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex where the NBA season restart and playoffs with be played. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 NBA season will resume at Walt Disney World in Orlando Thursday. It will consist of two games with the New Orleans Pelicans taking on the Utah Jazz in the opening half of a doubleheader and the Lakers going up against the Clippers to close things out.

It’s been more than four months since the season was suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to resume the campaign in a bubble has proven to be a success thus far for commissioner Adam Silver and Co. Whether that continues to remain the case is not yet known. But how this turns out will have wide-ranging ramifications on the future financial stability of the Association.

More than $1 billion in television revenue at stake

The Athletic recently estimated (h/t the NY Times) that this would be the total revenue loss should the NBA season be halted ahead of the playoffs coming to a culmination in October. Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer also noted during the spring that his team would lose at least $10 million individually.

Why is this significant? After all, the latest round of COVID-19 tests conducted on NBA players over the past nine days included zero positives. It seems like the bubble is indeed working.

Though, Silver himself has proven to be pragmatic in the past. It’s why he’s one of the most-popular commissioners in the sports world. He’s also not backing down from believing that the season could be on thin ice.

“I would say, ultimately, we would cease completely if we saw that this (COVID) was spreading around the campus, and something more than an isolated case was happening,” Silver told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday.

Something similar to this worst-case scenario happened around Major League Baseball less than a week after its season started. Nearly half of the Miami Marlins’ active roster tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the team’s season being suspended for at least a week.

While that outbreak is limited to solely the Marlins right now, it does raise a question about the NBA’s bubble. One player or figure contracting the virus at Walt Disney World could lead to a widespread outbreak. It’s why what we saw from Clippers star Lou Williams recently is so dangerous.

Cost of playing basketball amid the pandemic

It was noted earlier this month from an NBA source that it would ultimately cost the Association $150 million over three months to complete the season, via ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. It’s obvious that Silver and Co. took a major financial risk by attempting to resume the season in a bubble.

The Backdrop here being a state of Florida that saw 216 COVID-related fatalities in one day (as of publication of this article). The NBA received a ton of push back earlier this summer for attempting to resume its season in a state that represents one of the worldwide epicenters of the pandemic. As of yet, the issues we’ve seen in Florida have not translated to the bubble at Walt Disney World.

Even if the NBA season is completed, it’s estimated that the ongoing pandemic will cost it north of $1 billion in revenue. Adding another $1 billion to the mix would be a near catastrophe for the sport. That’s magnified by the fact that completing the season would also allow players to retain more than $600 million in salary that would have been lost if the season were canceled.

As we enjoy basketball returning for the first time in over four months, we have to appreciate the risks the players are taking on the court. We should also give Silver and the NBA credit for finding the right environment to make it work. If that wasn’t the case, billions could have been lost.

Let’s just hope the good news of the past several weeks continues through October.