MIAMI — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has heard all the reasons why the league should not have an All-Star Game in Atlanta next weekend.
He has two reasons why the league should: the fans and the game’s economy.
Silver, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the fact that about 100 million votes were cast by fans for All-Star starters shows that the people who follow the game globally wanted the league’s midseason showcase to be played. And the league, he said, didn't want to disappoint them.
“It’s the largest factor, the amount of engagement we get from our fans around All-Star,” Silver said. “Historically, in the modern digital age, we have roughly 100 million people vote for our All-Stars, and we came out about the same this year even with a shortened voting period.”
Players have raised some questions about why the game is necessary and the risks involved in playing it during a pandemic. The league has said it will fly players into Atlanta privately, keep them in a hotel for one night, play the game on March 7 and fly them back out again immediately afterward. They believe that plan, combined with ongoing daily testing and with no outside All-Star events, will minimize risks.
“We know we can’t eliminate risk completely,” Silver said. “We never can in a pandemic.”
The NBA has touted the game’s global reach for years and All-Star is no exception, with the game to be shown in more than 200 countries and broadcast in about 40 languages. The league expects 1 billion video views on social media from the events on March 7 as well.
“For a league that doesn’t have a neutral-site championship series historically, the focus typically is having an opportunity during our season to bring the entire community together,” Silver said. “Of course, we don’t have the opportunity to do that in person this year. But the NBA community is 99% virtual. It’s a global community on social media, representing close to 1.9 billion people who are engaged with us. There fact that there won’t be the traditional receptions and parties and fan events — and we’ll sadly miss them — it won’t change the experience for the largest portion of our fans.”
There is a financial element as well, and Silver has not hidden from that.
He said last week that Turner Sports, a league broadcast partner, wanted the game to happen in Atlanta, where the network is headquartered — and that indeed is where the game is taking place. The league held last season’s final regular-season games and the entirety of the playoffs at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida; Disney owns ESPN, another league broadcast partner.
“My personal view is very few people do anything just for the money,” Silver said. “But at the same time, while we’re clearly in a health emergency in this country, we’re also in the midst of an economic crisis and that extends to the NBA as well. There are tens of thousands of people who are dependent on the NBA for their livelihoods. So, for those who say we’re doing it for the money, they could say the same thing about our entire operation, about the fact that we’re even playing our season.”
The league missed revenue projections last season by about $1.5 billion, and revenues will be down again this season largely because of fewer games and far fewer fans in buildings. Most arenas are empty for games; those that aren’t empty are playing to capacities 80% to 90% below normal.
“We always begin with the health and safety of our players and everyone involved,” Silver said. “It was no different than our view going into the bubble. If we could keep our community healthy and safe, then it was appropriate to proceed. And we looked at the All-Star Game the same way. We know how to operate a bubble. We’re going to operate a mini-bubble in Atlanta that will be constructed no differently than the operation we ran either for the NBA in Orlando or for the WNBA in Bradenton, Florida, or for the G League for that matter is operating in right now in Orlando.”
Silver addressed some other issues with AP, including:
The league has gotten about 95% of its scheduled games played in the season’s first half, with 29 called off for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic. A handful of other games were called off after the ice storm that crippled Texas earlier this month.
Silver said the league went into this season knowing some games would be postponed, and said he’s pleased that almost all games have happened as scheduled. He also touted the success of the league’s protocols regarding health and safety and how they’ve evolved as the season goes along.
Silver said he continues to believe expansion of the league is “inevitable,” but said there is no timetable, either officially or in his head about when that will happen.
“It was not under active consideration before the pandemic,” Silver said. “Certainly, during the pandemic as I’ve mentioned, we’ve dusted off some of the plans that we previously looked at for potential expansion,” But it remains on the backburner and it would not be appropriate to expand right now, given where our focus is on trying to work through this season. All our attention is on getting the business back to being fully operable as quickly as possible.”
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