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NBA should trim schedule to 68 games, says sports business director



NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media after the Board of Governors meetings on July 12, 2016 at the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

David Dow | NBAE | Getty Images

The proposed changes to the National Basketball Association’s 82-game regular-season schedule is receiving mixed reaction, with some saying the league isn’t cutting enough games.

In an interview with CNBC, Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, said the NBA should go beyond cutting to the proposed 78 games, with the belief 68 contests could help the NBA’s current ratings and load management issues.

“One of the reasons NFL ratings are so high is because of their scarcity,” Rishe said. “Yes, you’re going to have to make up revenue somewhere, and it probably will be made up of higher media rights, higher ticket prices, high corporate partnership rates. But I believe the ratings per game would be higher, and it will help you justify higher rights fees; justify higher partnership rates because there will be more scarcity.”

ESPN first reported the NBA floated the idea to reduce its regular season to 78 games, including an in-season tournament, and possibly reseed the top four teams remaining in the playoffs regardless of conference, according to reports. That scenario would also allow an East vs. West conference final, or a same-conference NBA Finals.

“I applaud the effort,” Philadelphia 76ers forward Al Horford said. “I don’t know if it’s going to fly.”

As part of the change, adding play-in rounds for seeds 7-10 in each conference before the postseason commences is also being considered. The 7th and 8th seed would play a game for ownership of the 7th-seed slot, and the loser of the game would play the winner of the 9th- and 10th-seed play-in game. The winner of this game claims the final postseason spot.

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum said the schedule change is “intriguing.” But McCollum also raised additional questions surrounding the Basketball Related Income split, as some teams could play more than 78 games with the addition of play-in games.

When asked his thoughts on the changes, Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton, who played 10 seasons in the NBA, said he believes the current schedule format still “works,” and no changes are needed to the playoff format, either.

“I’d vote against it,” Walton said. “I like the schedule how it is.”

Around NBA circles, the belief is the league factored in trimming the schedule due to a decline in viewership. Earlier this week, Sports Business Journal reported ratings on TNT were down 22%, while ESPN’s NBA ratings dropped to 19%.

Asked at SBJ’s Dealmakers in Sports conference in New York about the decline, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pointed to a “broken” cable television model, saying the league’s young viewers “are tuning out traditional cable.”

Rishe said cutting games could be risky as there is no guarantee ratings or fees would increase with fewer games. But he added the demand for games would increase, and if the league remains popular among sports fans, revenue may not be affected that much.

“It is kind of a bet,” Rishe said. “You’re betting that if you do shrink the season by a certain amount, that you’re not going to adversely affect overall revenues. And once you start talking about adversely affecting overall revenues, it’s not only going to rock the apple cart in New York; it’s also going to rock the apple cart with the players union.”

Not all are skeptical about the idea of trimming the schedule and adding a tournament-style format.

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who coached at Butler University to two Final Fours before coming to the NBA, applauded the league for at least taking a look at ways to improve the schedule instead of staying “status quo because it’s status quo. We have to continue to look at what’s best for the game, what’s best for the players. … I appreciate the leadership in that league.”

“If it’s 78 or an in-season tournament, you play 81 or 83, you’re really not changing the number of games,” Stevens added. “But you certainly are at least looking at things that will continue to make it exciting for people and will continue to provide the entertainment value that it is.”

“I think it provides an exciting new thing,” Stevens saidd. “I don’t think we should avoid those things.”



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Serena Williams Loses at Australian Open




MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams tumbled out of the Australian Open in the third round on Friday, eliminated by an opponent who had previously been one of her least daunting.

The eighth-seeded Williams, a seven-time Australian Open champion, lost to 27th-seeded Wang Qiang of China, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5. It was their first meeting since last September in the United States Open quarterfinals, when Williams had routed Wang, 6-1, 6-0, in only 44 minutes, one of the easiest victories of her long career.

Wang, 28, who normally tries to dictate play with her flat, aggressive groundstrokes, did not hit a single winner in that match, seemingly frozen with fear under the floodlights in New York.

In Friday’s rematch, Wang’s readiness to battle was quickly apparent. She hung tough on her serve, saving four break points before breaking the 38-year-old Williams in the ninth game for a 5-4 lead, and then holding serve a game later to claim the opening set. Wang hit 10 winners in the set, and only five unforced errors. Williams hit 13 winners, but 18 unforced errors.

Wang broke again in the fifth game of the second set for a 3-2 lead, and extended her lead to 5-3. But when she served for the match at 5-4, Williams summoned her best tennis of the afternoon, punishing the serves that Wang aimed at her backhand, and outlasting her in a 24-shot rally to finally convert on her sixth break-point opportunity. She closed the set with a cross-court forehand winner and then threw her arms high in the air.

Williams fired down strong serves to save two break points on her serve in the next game. After Wang held to force a tiebreaker, Williams reeled off four straight points to take it, 7-2.

In the third set, Wang managed to close out Williams, who saved two match points before falling, to advance to the fourth round.

At the same time as Williams battled on Rod Laver Arena, her close friend Caroline Wozniacki played the final match of her career on Melbourne Arena, falling by 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

Williams and Wozniacki would have faced one another in the fourth round had both advanced, but underdogs not known for big-stage bravery bettered both.

The loss for Williams brought a premature end to her latest bid to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, and marked her earliest exit at the Australian Open since she lost in the third round in 2006. Before reaching the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals last year, Williams lost in the third round of the French Open last year, 6-2, 7-5 to the American Sofia Kenin.

But unlike her loss at the French Open, a tournament in which she arrived lacking preparation after months of struggling with a knee injury, Williams appeared to be an in-form contender in Melbourne, and was the oddsmakers’ favorite for the title. Williams did not play any tournaments last year after the U.S. Open — she has avoided the fall swing of the tennis season since 2015 — but showed promise early this season, winning her first title in three years at a small WTA tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, which she called a “monkey off my back.”

The larger burden of Court’s record, however, will remain. After her first-round win here, Williams acknowledged that the pressure of chasing Court had affected her in the past, but she insisted that she was now only focused on herself.

“I think it’s factored a lot into my game,” Williams said of the record for Grand Slam titles. “And now it’s just more or less about doing the best that Serena Williams can do. Margaret Court was a wonderful, great champion. And now how great is Serena Williams? That’s it. That’s kind of what I have been thinking about the last couple of weeks and months. It definitely helps me relax a lot.”

Wozniacki, who spent 71 weeks at the No. 1 ranking, starting in 2010 and most recently in 2018 after a long-awaited first Grand Slam title here, had pulled off one last signature victory in the second round, coming back from double-break deficits of 1-5 in the first set and 0-3 in the second set to beat 23rd-seeded Dayana Yastremska, 7-5, 7-5.

Smiling through tears in an on-court presentation after her loss to Jabeur, Wozniacki self-deprecatingly joked that the two-hour, seven-minute match had been a fitting finale to her career.

“I think it was only fitting that my last match would be a three-setter, a grinder, and that I would finish my career with a forehand error,” Wozniacki joked about her weakest stroke. “It was one of those things I’ve been working on my whole career, but I guess it’s just meant to be.”


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