Imagine executives at ABC tuning in to the latest episode of an expensive series like their own “Modern Family” and finding out that Sofia Vergara, Ed O’Neill and Eric Stonestreet weren’t going to appear in order to recharge their batteries over the course of the long TV season. Preposterous as that might sound, a similar situation is actually playing out for the network, as well as its cable sibling ESPN and TNT.
Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC, and Time Warner, owner of TNT, began shelling out $24 billion last year to air NBA games on their channels through 2024-25. But in recent weeks, multiple stars from the league’s most dominant teams including the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs sat on the bench for entire games that played in front of national TV audiences because their respective coaches claimed they needed to rest their best players as the post-season approaches. But he controversial decision not only hurts the networks that pay so much for rights to these telecasts, but the fans who pay plenty as well to watch games either via pay-TV subscriptions or in attendance at their local arenas.
No wonder league commissioner Adam Silver characterized this issue as an “extremely significant” one that he intends to broach at this week’s Board of Governors meeting. Because advances in sports science are sensitizing teams to preventing players from getting injured, the resting trend could only increase in the future.
To ameliorate this problem, the NBA has to figure out how to ease the rigors of an 82-game regular-season schedule that is too grueling by all accounts. That’s what makes this such a difficult issue to fix; teams are just trying to protect their most valuable assets, the players. But the league also has to protect the interests of the conglomerates who deserve some reasonable assurance that the stars will remain visible enough to justify their considerable investment.