The late night start to NBA free agency has never been ideal for TV viewership, but with the 2018 edition kicking off at 12:01 on a Sunday morning, it may have been even more lost in the shuffle for the league’s casual fans. Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing ponders what the league may do to avoid the same problem in the future.
There are a couple of different elements to consider here. One is the free agency period being linked to the first of the month rather than the days of the week, which is what made this year’s free agency stand out as particularly poorly-timed for media coverage compared to other years. The 12:01 a.m. Eastern start is pretty usual, in basketball and in other sports, but having that fall on a weekend this year was rough from a media perspective. And yes, it’s easier from the contracts side to just say all contracts expire as of June 30 each year, but changing that so free agency would always open, say, at 12:01 a.m. on the first weekday in July might have some advantages from a media perspective. (The first weekday seems like a better bet than “the first Monday,” as then there’s no chance of it falling on the July 4 Independence Day holiday.)
But beyond that, having free agency open at 12:01 a.m. Eastern isn’t the most practical solution. Again, that’s probably done because it’s easier for contracts and because it’s always been done, and other leagues do it as well. But it should be possible to set that time to whatever the NBA and the players’ association agree on, hopefully in consultation with media partners. Other elements such as trade deadlines are in the middle of the day, and those have turned into media extravaganzas (especially when it comes to the NHL trade deadline in Canada).
As Bucholtz points out, trade deadlines never have late night end times, so from a business standpoint, it shouldn’t be impossible to make a change. Also, the timing of free agency’s launch each year means that the NBA has a real chance to dominate public conversation and the pundit-filled airwaves if the league takes steps to time it properly every year.
The truth is that players and teams are going to get deals done when they get done. The NBA cannot force anyone to keep from posting something regarding their future on social media, but Bucholtz argues that moving the season’s kickoff event can be used to build the fanbase.
And this isn’t just about keeping media outlets happy; in fact, that’s the lower concern. The bigger issue is that the NBA has an event that’s generating tremendous interest, something that could theoretically be held at any time they and the players’ association agree on, and it’s happening at midnight on a weekend when many media can’t give it a full-court press. And the timing also means that the opening in particular is being followed more by the hardcore fans (especially on the East Coast) than by casual fans. Making the deadline at a more media-friendly time could pay significant exposure benefits for the league.
You can read the full column at Awful Announcing.