October 24, 2011
With news that the NBA lockout could last a while, word broke recently that several of the league’s stars are working to go on an international barnstorming tour. This makes sense since the players could not only draw an income, but stay in shape and in front of fans missing out on the NBA’s regular season. Ordinarily, this might sound like a pipe dream scenario, but reports are starting to surface that contracts have already been signed and such a tour could be a very real possibility.
So the question is, ‘can it work?’
No one could really say for sure, but if the goal is to pack a few arenas and make a little bit of money along the way, then I think it could work over the short term. Here’s what needs to happen, in my opinion, for it to be a success:
1. Keep it overseas: The way I see it, the greatest interest for a barnstorming tour would be overseas. There are plenty of fans in the U.S. that would pay to see LeBron vs. Kobe in an NBA game any day of the week, but how many would want to pay big money for an exhibition? Could it work once? Probably. But fans overseas would likely have a far greater interest in seeing players they may never otherwise be able to see play in person. The tour would have a bigger chance of constant sellouts if played internationally than if the teams made the rounds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
2. Limit the games: These games may seem like fun at first, but how many would you actually want to see? The novelty could wear off extremely quickly and the players involved would be better off by not playing an abundance of these contests. In addition to attendance, the other thing that’s reportedly been discussed is the possibility of televised games. Networks may be interested in airing a few, but it’s hard to envision a major entity being willing to broadcast a dozen or so games. No one knows how long this lockout will last and if the players need to organize another tour, interest should still be high if the number of contests is limited the first time around.
3. Make the competition real: Much like the NHL’s and NFL’s athletes, NBA players catch a lot of heat for their All-Star games because they’re perceived to feature little defense. That’s true to a degree, but it’s hard to fault the players for that because they don’t want to get injured – especially since their break is in the middle of the season. Fans may simply be pleased with seeing exhibition-level basketball, but the tour would be an infinitely bigger success if the players went all out. In addition, the last thing the players need to do is further alienate fans. That could happen if fans in attendance or watching on TV feel they aren’t giving their all … even if the games are played in another country. There doesn’t need to a trophy or an actual league set up, but if the games are competitive, that would go a long way to restoring their credibility among fans. That said…
4. Be careful: The worst thing that could happen would be a significant injury to any of the players. It would not only be devastating to NBA teams employing any such players (especially if the lockout ends and the season eventually gets underway), but put serious doubts in the mind of the rest of the players about if they should be participating. It’s simply not worth it for these players who are at the top of their sport to suffer a major injury. That’s the type of thing that could cause an abrupt end to the tour and make it a disaster.