Regardless of your rooting interest, every sports fan would agree that 2020 has been a very strange year. Professionally, as September neared its end, for the first time in history, the NBA, NHL, MLB, and the NFL were are playing games that mattered. Normally, at this time of year, the NBA and NHL would be in training camps gearing for the start of another regular season. MLB experienced an abrupt end to its spring training, took a three-month break, and held a “summer camp,” and then embarked on a cram-packed 60 game season. The NFL canceled its pre-season but has forged ahead with a normal regular season’s schedule.
COVID-19 is the culprit for all this upheaval, but deep behind the scenes since last March, those controlling the purse strings have been forging ahead with one common objective: get to the playoff$. The players make their money during the regular season, but ownership ca$hes in when the playoff$ arrive. There is little dispute that the playoff$ generate both more capital and fan interest, and despite the participation of fewer teams, the tail definitely wags the dog.
Discounting the NFL, whose playoffs seem to be unaffected by the ongoing pandemic, the other three professional leagues all set their sights on preserving the playoff$ with unprecedented measures. Both the NBA and NHL resumed their seasons this past summer “under the bubble” with no fans in attendance. Those conditions seemed to work as the leagues got thru the resumption of their regular seasons with very little COVID consequence. MLB got to the finish line of its regular season with a bevy of postponements and upheaval, but did “get er done.”
The carrot they were all chasing was the saving grace of the TV revenue brought about by the playoff$. Let’s examine the rea$on$ why.
It has been estimated the NBA would have lost approximately $900 million in television revenue if it had canceled the playoff$. That does not include revenue that was lost from local television deals. It is estimated that 40% of the NBA’s revenue is derived from fans attending games. Without fans in the stands, everything comes from television.
NBA teams lost between $2 to $3 million per home game, with NHL teams seeing a loss of between $1.5 and $3 million. From the playoff$, the NBA gets an average of $2.6 billion a year from ESPN and Turner. The NHL takes in an average of $600 million from NBC Sports and Rogers Communications. The playoff pool for the NBA players is expected to be $24 million, with the NHL at $16 million.
NBA TV ratings were down this year with 39% of sports fans saying they watched fewer games, 32% answered they are watching more, and 28% say their interest is about the same. For those watching less, most responses have said the league has become “too political”. The rating numbers have also been skewed by many games been aired in off-peak hours.
It is interesting to note that, among the three leagues, only the NBA has maintained its integrity regarding its playoff structure. Of its 30 teams, 16, or 53%, made the playoff$, the same as in previous years. The NHL has 31 teams, and 24 of them (77%) participated in this year’s playoff$, up from 16 teams last year. MLB jumped from 10 teams (33%) last year to 16 (53%) in 2020.
MLB’s typical 10-team playoff format last year generated roughly $780 million in television revenue. This year’s expanded 16-team field will yield nearly $1 billion. Indeed, for our professional sports, green dollars matter.
Locally, the District 4 high school football playoffs will also be seeing changes. District officials have announced that championship playoffs for Class A and 4A will be held on October 30 & 31, with only two teams qualifying in each class. The champions will then play in a PIAA state playoff game on November 6.
In classes 2A and 3A, four teams will participate. The semifinals will be played on October 30 and 31, with the championship games taking place on November 6 & 7.
Teams have until October 26 to inform the district if they plan to participate, and teams only need three games played to be eligible for the postseason. The games will be played at the home of the higher seed unless the higher seed doesn’t allow visiting fans.
According to the PIAA, teams will be permitted to play regular-season games up until the state championships, scheduled for November 27 & 28, to allow teams to reach a ten-game schedule. Teams will also be able to schedule games after they have been eliminated from the playoffs until Thanksgiving weekend as well.
The recent political football that has been tossed back and forth between Governor Wolf, the State Legislature, and the PIAA has only muddied the waters when it comes to high school sports, who can watch them and who can’t. As has been the case all fall, the cooperation of all of us is paramount to permitting the sports we love to have a season.
Be safe out there.