Amidst Coronavirus, NBA Has Options But No Right Answer


As the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread across the world, the NBA is seeing increased pressure to act. With the postponing of sporting events in Europe, many are wondering if the Association will follow suit. League officials have flirted with a few ideas, though there isn’t one idea that satisfies everyone. The virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days, so many infected people don’t realize they are infected until they already spread the disease. The Association discussed moving games to cities with no outbreaks, playing with no fans, or postponing the season. Each proposal has its pros and cons. The NBA has its hands tied, but only one option ensures the most satisfied people: Postpone the season.

Option 1: Move the games of affected cities to cities without outbreaks

League sources held active talks of moving games to the opposing team’s city or neutral cities if the home city is affected by an outbreak. Doing so will allow fans to continue to attend the game, but will create a logistical nightmare for the league. The league will have to decide to honor previously purchased tickets with a seat that is comparable, or refund the ticket and sell new tickets. If the league opts to honor purchased tickets, two things can happen: the fan from the affected city travels to the new city and potentially spreads the virus, or the fans sell the tickets on resale sites. Reselling tickets increases the likelihood that opposing fans purchase them, eliminating home court advantage for the original home team. For teams vying for a playoff spot, losing home court advantage could be the difference between a win and a loss.

As talks progress, this option seems to be the least likely option for the league.

Option 2: Play with no fans

The biggest concern with COVID-19 is its ability to spread easily. Naturally, a sold out arena of 20,000+ is a great place for the virus to spread. If the league bans fans, it could help prevent the spread. So far, the Golden State Warriors have been the only NBA team to utilize this policy. The team announced today that fans will be barred from the Chase Center until at least March 25th. Fans are receiving refunds, but this option revisits the home-court advantage issue.

If this continues on a case-by-case basis, unfair advantages form. For example, the race for the eight seed in the West involves three teams. If Memphis is forced to play without fans, but New Orleans and Portland still allow fans, the Grizzlies are at a steep disadvantage, despite holding a 3.5 game lead before Wednesday’s games. The same applies to teams jockeying for seeding. Philadelphia faces the possibility of losing the best home-court advantage in the league because of the virus. If the league enacts this policy with every team, it won’t be as pronounced, but the lack of fans still affects the game.

The next issue with this option comes with team revenue. Projected game revenue partially determines NBA salary caps. If the league plays an extended amount of games without fans, it invites salary cap issues for the 2020-2021 season. A single playoff series generates millions of dollars for the teams involved. Without fans buying tickets, a large chunk of revenue goes unaccounted for.

Option 3: Postpone the season

This option stands as the best for the league. Postponing the season allows full fan interaction. Pause all league activities until the outbreaks die. All league revenue remains mostly in tact, with fans attending in full. Ratings may increase as well, as the thought of a league entering its final phase after an extended break is enticing to viewers. Of course, this option holds its own obstacles. Arenas are scheduled for different events such as concerts, other sports, etc. Creative scheduling becomes a must to navigate these issues. The Olympics feature another hurdle, as several NBA players represent Team USA in the games. This, however, remains a question mark as the olympic committee is getting closer to postponing the Olympics. Fans may get frustrated with this decision, as they purchased tickets and may not be able to attend the new date.

No option solves every problem. Postponing games, however, remains the safest and smartest option. Safety of the fans and players needs to be the focus of the league. If it creates unrest, so be it. An decision must be reached soon, as the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate. Whatever the league chooses will go down as a new precedent, as the league has never seen a situation like this in its 73-year history.

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About Dave Pedron

As a Pennsylvania native, Penn State grad, and diehard Sixers fan, I'm very excited to cover the team and usher in the next chapter of the Process.

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