Why the NBA decided to have the All-Star game

This Sunday, March 7th, in Atlanta, GA, is the NBA All-Star game. Although, this year’s midseason showcase is coming with a little more controversy than most years, the event will be the first major All-Star game to be held since the pandemic began, so naturally, there are lots of skeptics. You have people wondering why they are playing a meaningless game, while there have already been 31 postponed games this year due to coronavirus. There are numerous reasons why this event is being held, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to money. It may surprise you, though, that it’s not just the league that wants this weekend to happen, but the players association does too.

After last year’s NBA bubble concluded in mid-October, the NBA players voted and approved the league’s plan to start this season just 72 days later, in December. With the quick turnaround, the league could still play the annual games on Christmas Day, play 72 out of the traditional 82-game regular season, and wrap up the playoffs in time for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. In that proposal, they also agreed on giving the players a 6-day break between March 5-10th, instead of hosting the traditional All-Star weekend, so they could relax, recover and spend some much-needed time away from the court. That plan changed just a few weeks ago when the NBA and NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) agreed it would be best for the league to host the All-Star Game after all. There will be a few changes to the format this year to hopefully reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Typically, All-Star weekend is a four-day event where the competitions take place on various days. This year, everything will take place on the same day, Sunday, March 7th. It was also supposed to be held in Indianapolis this year but was moved to Atlanta, GA.

Like everyone, this pandemic has caused the NBA to lose plenty of potential revenue, by not having full capacity crowds at games and not playing a full 82-game schedule. The NBA is now looking for ways to increase their revenue, but why did the NBPA agree to these changes after the players voted on taking this time off? And if the league is not planning on opening the event up to the public, why would they move the game from Indianapolis to Atlanta? NBA players across the league have been very vocal about not looking forward to this weekend. LeBron James said he has “zero energy and zero excitement” for traveling to Atlanta for the game and feels like playing the game is a “slap in the face” to the players. So why is this event happening?

First, according to Statista, in the 2019-2020 season, ticketing revenue made up 20% of the NBA’s total revenue. So with the league already scrambling to make up that 20% somewhere else, they realized that not hosting an All-Star game would put them in an even larger deficit. The league also has a media rights deal worth $24B with ESPN and Turner Sports. ESPN has the rights to the NBA Finals, but TNT has the rights to the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities each year. So even if the league and the players agreed on skipping the All-Star game this year, TNT most likely would have needed something in return. EDO, an advertising metrics data firm, estimated that last year’s All-Star Game generated around $15M for Turner Sports from advertisements and thinks that number could reach $24M this year when packaged with the Slam Dunk competition. Taking that money away from Turner Sports would have surely put the league in a difficult position with one of their two official media partners. 

Speaking of Turner Sports, they are most likely one of the main reasons why the All-Star Game was moved from Indianapolis to Atlanta. After the NBA announced there would be no All-Star Game, Indianapolis agreed to be the host city of the entire NCAA March Madness tournament. So in February, when the NBA decided it would hold an All-Star Game, they needed to find a new venue. Since Turner Sports is headquartered in Atlanta, they already have everything they need without requiring many/any employees to fly in from out of town. Reducing the risk of spreading the virus should be the league’s number one priority while putting this event on, so hosting it in the city where all the media equipment is in made sense. From a player’s perspective, hosting an All-Star game in a city, who has been notoriously weak with COVID-protocols, would feel like a slap in the face to me, like LeBron said. The league has seemingly, up to this point, been trying everything they can to take this pandemic seriously while also trying to safely bring us the game we love to watch. This is the first time the league is doing something unnecessary while simultaneously potentially putting people at risk. 

So with the players against the idea of playing and not excited about attending, why are they not putting up more of a fight? Well, the NBPA agreed to the All-Star game because it could potentially affect the player’s salaries. The $24B media rights deal that the league agreed upon with ESPN and Turner Sports doesn’t go entirely to the league. The owners and the players split the money from the media rights deal 50/50. So, the more money the league makes from the media rights deal, the more money the players will make. For example, before the new media deal was finalized in 2014, the NBA’s salary cap was $63M; just seven years later, the salary cap is now over $109M. If the players refused to play this year, it might not affect the actual All-Stars, who typically earn more, but it could affect the players who make the league minimum. 

The league and the players won’t be the only people benefiting from the game being hosted. Over the past few years, the All-Star captains have nominated their favorite charities to play on behalf of, with the opportunity to earn that charity some money. This year’s game, the league has decided to commit more than $3M in initial funds to help support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). With this commitment they are hoping to not only help out HBCUs financially, but they also will be using the platform to raise awareness around the importance of HBCUs and to showcase some of the many talented students.

From a health and safety standpoint, there is no way this All-Star game should be happening, but hopefully, this article opened your eyes to reasons why this is happening.  At the end of the day, money fuels most decisions, but I was a little surprised to find out it wasn’t just the league behind these decisions. It was only 25 years ago when Michael Jordan signed the first contract worth more than $20M. This year, 53 players are earning over $20M. Recently, the league also increased the guaranteed minimum salary to where now nearly every player earns at least $1M, so the pay gap is also not as bad as it has been. So although the players have been outspoken about not wanting to play in the All-Star game this year, it’s not just the league who decided the All-Star game should be held. The NBPA is comprised of player representatives from each team that agreed that this was in the best interest for the NBA’s future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s