Tuesday, February 5, 2008

NBA TV Programming: The League Responds

Our long hate-affair with how the NBA runs it's nationally televised schedule is pretty extensive. In search of the truth, we shot some emails out to some network execs at both networks, and one to the NBA. The networks deferred to the league, and Michael Wade, Senior Manager, Marketing Communications for the NBA, was kind enough to respond on behalf of the league. What follows is the Q&A we conducted. We want to thank Michael for his time, for while there's nothing groundbreaking here, it's still a genuine service for the league to respond to the requests of a blogger, and one of the reason's the NBA is really the most fan-friendly of all the major sports.


HP:Does the league work with ESPN/ABC and TNT on selecting which games are placed on those nights in the context of the season? How much impact do the representatives from the networks have in the decision making process?

MW: The NBA works closely with its network partners to determine the most compelling matchups for our fans prior to the season and helps our network partners make adjustments when possible, with many factors going into schedule changes (team travel, arena availability, etc).

HP: What are the key factors that go into selecting games for the nationally televised games? Are the matchups selected based on major markets, or do they lean towards the perceived competitive nature of the contests? Does the league choose to highlight its premier players, and if so, is this an attempt to add more fans through a showcase of individual athletic achievement?

NBA: The NBA is determined to present the most compelling matchups for our fans. There are a number of factors that go into the selection ranging from the individual teams, the history of the rivalries, the teams’ records from the previous seasons, and storylines involving the teams and their players, as well as the overall layout of the schedule. At the same time, the integrity of the schedule must be preserved for our team’s local rightholders.

HP: Why isn’t more of an effort to showcase some of the smaller-market teams who are playing better in favor of some of the known quantities that are struggling? Is this decision entirely in the hands of the network or does the League have some say in the matter? Wouldn’t it behoove the league to feature some up and coming teams and players, such as the Orlando Magic with Dwight Howard (especially after last Sunday’s thrilling win), or the Western Conference leading New Orleans Hornets?

NBA: Market size is not the final determining factor, competitiveness is. The NBA and its partners work closely to schedule the best games possible, no matter what the size of the market. For example, the San Antonio Spurs will make the maximum amount of appearances (9 games) on TNT this season, while the New York Knicks, the team based in the largest market, will make only one appearance this year.

At the same time, basketball is live, unscripted drama. A game, which seems like it will be competitive when it is scheduled prior to the season, may or may not develop into one once the teams meet during the season. This is why the league developed flexible scheduling with its partners to enable us to air a more compelling game if it is taking place that same day. For example, working with ESPN, fans were able to enjoy the dramatic contest between the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic on Sunday, Jan. 27, after the Phoenix Suns and the Chicago Bulls had been previously scheduled to appear on ABC that day.

HP: As a result of the new Turner-NBA partnership, are there plans for a widespread overhaul of NBA TV or will the changes be more subtle in nature? What role, if any, will the TNT studio crew have in TNT’s new role for NBA TV?

NBA: For the immediate future, fans will continue to get the outstanding basketball programming that NBA TV has been delivering for nearly a decade now, including more than 100 live NBA games this season. We plan to outline our specific programming and production goals at a future announcement.

In regard to talent, on-air talent from the Emmy-Award NBA on TNT and TNT’s Inside the NBA will appear on NBA TV.

Couple of interesting quotes here.

First off, there's not really a clear answer to many of the questions, but particularly the role that the networks have in developing the schedule. We also wonder if the league or the networks are more concerned with the flexibility clause. There doesn't seem to be much interest from the networks in getting out of the Heat-debacle and into some fresh New Orleans digs.

Two things from the second question. First, the rivalries aspect is a bit alarming. It's one thing for there to be Spurs-Suns on. That's a legit rivalry at this point in time. Same for Mavs-Dubs. But what do you want to bet next season we get bombarded with both of the Boston-LA games? I'm not saying it's a bad idea, they're both good teams. But LA may be on national television MORE next year, and that's a terrifying thought. Second, the last statement is interesting. The local rightholders. So apparently, even though outside of the direct local markets, these games can be dropped for women's synchronized air hockey, the league still tries to make sure the people that live in the city can see the game. And that's a pretty good idea. Except for that whole, blackout thing.

We'd also say that it's normal for the Spurs to get 9 appearances, and wholly just for the Knicks to get one. But maybe it's just us, but the Lakers seem to get, oh, I don't know, a million. So there's that.

Anyway, again, we appreciate the league taking the time to at least respond.

If you know anything further about the NBA scheduling process, drop us a line. We're a little obsessed with this issue at this point.

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