Five Stars to the NBA: A Successful Bubble
Congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers who won their 17th NBA championship on Sunday night after beating the Miami Heat 4-2 in an entertaining series. After an incredibly challenging and unprecedented season, the LA Lakers were crowned champions.
The NBA, and Commissioner Adam Silver, have pulled off a meticulously executed project, which has been an unequivocal success; a blueprint for other leagues that may wish to emulate such a monumental task.
Sports Shorts has previously reported on the NBA’s COVID strategy at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The NBA “Bubble” at Disney World required a $170 million investment after the regular season was suspended on 11 March. The Board of Governors approved the format on 5 June, which included 22 of the 30 NBA teams.
Disney World housed the players, coaches, staff, media personnel and league personnel at three of the hotels on campus. The season resumed at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports establishment in Orlando, which featured seven practice facilities (including weight rooms and courts).
In advance of resuming the season at Disney World, the NBA released a comprehensive medical protocol to govern the health and safety infrastructure on campus. This protocol included strict guidelines for everybody on campus, including family members, media personnel and support staff. The measures included daily testing, meals, security, transportation, sanitation and hotel rules.
Ten chefs were invited to the bubble to serve the players, staff and personnel on campus. Up to 4,000 meals were cooked and delivered each week. The chefs would have to work in isolation with only one sous chef to support them. Players would order their meals online the previous day and the chefs would fulfil the orders by waking up at 04:30. Personal shoppers would purchase the ingredients and deliver to the kitchens. The meals would be cooked and collected by a runner who would transport them to the security point bordering the two isolation zones. There is the inner bubble where the players and staff are housed and a secondary bubble for all other staff. There can be no cross contamination between the two zones so a second runner from the inner bubble would collect the meals from the security point and deliver to the team hotels. This meticulous protocol reflects the fine detail required for the bubble to succeed and mitigate against the risk of infection.
According to certain ratings, NBA viewership has decreased in the playoffs. Compared to last year, there are 48% less viewers in the NBA Finals. This can be attributed to the timing of the Finals, which would usually be over summer, the competing calendars of the country’s other major sports and the primacy of the presidential elections in the news cycle. However, it is not all bad news for the NBA.
Since the restart, NBA social media channels have received more than three million new followers whilst generating over 5.3 billion video views since 1 July. Accordingly, international audiences grew during the bubble – especially in the United Kingdom. This could be due to the friendlier schedule of games at the beginning of the bubble process, where games would tip off earlier than usual. Indeed, Chinese State TV resumed its broadcasting of the NBA Finals for the first time since the beginning of the season a year ago.
As mentioned, players, staff and even family members were subject to strict protocols, which ensured that the bubble remained intact and uncompromised. Such protocols succeeded as the bubble did not experience a single positive COVID test or infection during the entire process. The NBA played 172 games over three months without a single infection.
An increasing narrative of social justice and equal rights for minority communities in the United States coincided with the resumption of basketball at Disney World. The NBA sought to champion social justice and take advantage of its high profile nature: ‘Black Lives Matter’ was printed on the courts throughout the bubble, players included messages of social justice on their jerseys whilst players continued to use their platforms as opportunities to maintain the national conversation and ensure that social justice continued to be on the national agenda. Teams even boycotted certain games and peacefully protested to raise greater awareness for these issues.
For the conference finals, players debuted warm-up shirts that displayed “VOTE” on the front whilst teams are also hosting voting and civic engagement events at their areas and facilities.
Indeed, the NBA Board of Governors recently voted in favour of the establishment of the league’s inaugural Foundation Board of Directors, which comprises of eight representatives from the NBA’s Board of Governors (i.e. team owners), players and executives from both the NBA Player’s Association and the NBA. The board aims to support and facilitate sustainable initiatives in NBA team markets. The Foundation will especially drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement.
Will fans be back? Usually, the playoffs concludes in July and the following season would commence in October. The delayed season presents a few challenges for the league. Adam Silver has suggested that the earliest that the new season will kick off is likely in January with the hope that fans will return to arenas by this point. Some experts have indicated that arenas could invite fans back but only filling up to 20% capacity, which would be between 3,500 and 5,000 fans at the venue and described as an “acceptable level of low risk”. This will require a high degree of control whereby the league must regulate the entire fan experience from the moment fans arrive at the venue, in car parks (or, parking lots), spreading fans out in the seating areas and ensuring fans pass temperature checks, wear masks and adhere to one-way systems to access toilets and refreshment services.
Olympic Games. The postponed Tokyo Olympic Games is due to take place in the summer of 2021, which will likely conflict with the NBA’s calendar for the 2020-21 season. Since professional players were allowed to compete at the Olympic Games at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the USA men’s basketball team has won six out of a possible seven gold medals. With conflicting calendars, it appears unlikely that the NBA season will pause during the Olympic Games, so competing countries could be without its usual calibre of players to select from.
The financial outlook. The NBA and NBA Players’ Association will enter into discussions during the off-season to negotiate the financial framework for the following season. The NBA has suffered significant revenue losses this year. Roughly 40% of its annual revenue is connected to arena-related income such as ticket purchases, concessions, parking and merchandise. This will involve a revision of the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement, which governs the operation of the league and basketball and is negotiated between the league and players’ association. As Basketball-Related Income has inevitably decreased, this will have a significant impact on the operation of the league, including player salaries and team cap space.
Free agency. The NBA has not yet announced when its free agency window will open but reports suggest it will begin on 1 December shortly after the Draft takes place on 18 November. It is likely that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated in the interim, which will – in turn – materially impact free agency, player contracts and team salary caps.
The basketball was exciting, the protocols were executed flawlessly and the league collaborated with its players to champion social justice. It was an MVP performance from Adam Silver, the league’s Commissioner, who will – no doubt – continue to drive the league forwards despite the uncertainty that lies ahead.