Hawks CEO: NBA season should start in December to avoid competition with NFL, CFB

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Nov 4, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of a basketball during a game between the Chicago Bulls and the New Orleans Pelicans at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin proposed a radical change to the NBA schedule on Friday that would dramatically alter the timeline of the league.

Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, Koonin said the league should start and end its season two months later than it currently does, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.

“Let football have its time,” he said. “Let’s have our time, and let’s go after it.”

The NBA season currently starts in the middle of October, but Koonin thinks it would benefit the Association to change that to mid-December. As noted by Bontemps, “the shift would cause the NBA to avoid having to compete with two months of the NFL’s regular season, as it currently does in the first two-and-a-half months before the ‘unofficial’ start to the league’s calendar on Christmas Day.”

Such a change would push the NBA Finals into August, with the NBA Draft coming after that, when the NFL preseason is in full swing.

Koonin explained his reasoning:

“A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings. Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings.

“If King Kong is at your door, you might go out the back door, rather than go out the front and engage in a hand-to-hand fight with King Kong. Many times, at the start of the NBA season, we are competing with arguably the best Thursday Night Football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee broadcast, and we get crushed and we wonder why?

“It’s because at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA. The relevance is now. That’s when people are talking about it.”

While some might be unwilling to make such a big change, there’s no doubt the NBA is being hurt by the NFL when it comes to ratings. Everyone knows, the NFL is king, but the extent to which it dominates other sports is staggering.

The idea of switching the NBA schedule isn’t being ruled out by the Association, either.

“We certainly have no issue with reconsidering the calendar,” NBA’s senior vice president of strategy and analytics Evan Wasch said. “To Steve’s point, you have to think about the other stakeholders. They need to get more comfortable with the Finals in August, rather than June, where traditionally the household viewership is a lot lower. But the flip side of that argument is there hasn’t been a lot of premium content in that window, which explains why viewership is lower. We’re open to that … there’s no magic to [the season going from] October to June.”

There obviously are a lot of moving parts, and such a change would take careful planning and consideration. But given the way the ratings have gone into the tank, especially early during the NBA season, it’s definitely worth looking into.