Atlanta Hawks CEO suggests pushing NBA season back to avoid clash with NFL

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin (left, Credit: Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin has suggested pushing the National Basketball Association season back two months to reduce a clash with the National Football League and in turn boost television ratings.

Koonin made the proposal at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on March 6.

Under his suggestion, the NBA season would begin in mid-December, rather than mid-October and thus avoid competing with much of the NFL regular season, which remains the most popular television property in the United States by a big margin. The NBA Finals would then take part in August, with the NBA Draft and Summer League shifting back in the calendar as well.

“Relevance equals revenue,” Koonin said. “We’ve got to create the most relevance, and the revenue will fix itself.”

NBA regular-season TV ratings have declined this year, in part due to a rash of injures to star players such as Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving.

Koonin added: “A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings. Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings. If King Kong [the NFL] is at your door, you might go out the back door, rather than go out the front and engage in a hand-to-hand fight with King Kong. Many times, at the start of the NBA season, we are competing with arguably the best Thursday Night Football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee broadcast, and we get crushed and we wonder why.

“It’s because at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA. The relevance is now. That’s when people are talking about it” he said.

Notably, Evan Wasch, the NBA’s senior vice president of strategy and analytics, said the league was open to such an idea.

“We certainly have no issue with reconsidering the calendar,” Wasch said. “To Steve’s point, you have to think about the other stakeholders. They need to get more comfortable with the Finals in August, rather than June, where traditionally the household viewership is a lot lower. But the flip side of that argument is there hasn’t been a lot of premium content in that window, which explains why viewership is lower. We’re open to that…there’s no magic to [the season going from] October to June.”

The PGA Tour revamped its tournament schedule in 2018-19, with the season-closing FedEx Cup Playoffs now comprising three events instead of four, in large part to ensure the PGA Tour season concludes in time for the start of the American football season in the US.