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What Happens if the NBA Postpones the Season?

The 2020-21 NBA season hits the one-month mark this week - and overall, things are a little rocky. While the first two and a half weeks went by without many issues - only one game postponed - the last ten days have been troublesome.

Since January 10 (up until the morning of January 21) - 19 games have been postponed - including six Washington Wizards games and three Memphis Grizzlies games postponed the morning of the 21st.

The increase in postponed games is problematic. For the NBA, it causes concerns about the remaining schedule, TV contracts, and the season overall. For television networks, it affects their programming and viewership. For people betting NBA futures at Bet365, it could hurt their chances of winning their bet or the validity of their bet if a team does not play 72 games.

Obviously, the league made a contingency plan for postponed games - releasing only half of the regular season schedule so they could make arrangements for postponed games later in the year. But at what point does the number of games postponed reach a level where simply adding games in the second half of the season becomes overwhelming - especially for the teams with maybe ten games to reschedule?

Does it make more sense - if we continue to see 10 to 15 games delayed each week - to postpone the season for a few weeks? All we do know right now is that the NBA needs for each team to play 70 games - or risk another substantial financial hit.


"NBA Finals" by Wikimedia is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Why 70 games?

Seventy games for each team is the key number for the NBA. At 70 games, RSNs (regional sports networks) contracts come into full effect. In a year with most arenas empty - and the few allowing fans very limited - the money from these RSN contracts - which represents billions each year - is more critical than ever.

While the full details of these contracts remain between the NBA and the individual networks, not reaching the agreed-upon total of games means a significant cut in revenue from these deals.

For now, the NBA seems intent on playing and dealing with postponements in the second half of the season.

Failing to Play 72 Games Affects Bettors

Not playing a full season also impacts sports bettors. If the NBA does not complete an entire season of games, then many NBA futures - such as wins totals - are void and refunded.

It can also hurt NBA Finals' futures. If the NBA cuts down the total season - say from 72 games to 60 - some contenders could be in a more precarious situation. A month into the season, a few contenders - such as the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat - are in the seven to ten range in the standings - meaning they are in the play-in tournament for the playoffs. Cutting the season down hurts their chances of moving back into a top-six or four seed in their conference standings.


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Cannot Postpone Too Late or Too Long

While the bubble experiment was considered a success, the time of year it took place was not ideal. The rating took a hit - and while we can speculate on the many reasons why - one thing most people agree on is sports do not play very well in August.

Delaying the season too long also affects the NBA's goal of starting the 2021-2022 season in October. The NBA believes that returning to an October to June schedule is necessary to return to normal profit levels.

A two or three-week postponement would not ruin their ability to start the next season on time. However, it could force many teams to play a gruelling schedule in the second half of the season - something similar to what the NBA did in 2012-13. That year was particularly notable for injuries - so it is likely the Player's Union pushes back if the NBA is adamant to schedule teams playing five games per week or three games in three nights.

We do expect the NBA to figure it out eventually. The RSN contracts are too important to the league this year. Maybe they get creative, or perhaps they punish teams, causing game postponements. We will just have to wait and see.