With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, the NBA and the players’ union are poised to approve a Dec. 22 start to the 2020-21 season as soon as Thursday, multiple media outlets reported.
The NBA has spent the last few weeks pitching a short turnaround between seasons, with a 72-game schedule that would include games on Christmas Day. ESPN and The New York Times reported that the league’s board of governors and the National Basketball Players’ Association were expected to vote on the proposed changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement on Thursday after weeks of negotiations, and both bodies are expected to approve it.
At stake is an estimated $500 million to $1 billion for a league that is already expecting severe revenue shortfalls next year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With many arenas situated in cities that have yet to lift mass gathering restrictions, the NBA is on track to lose a significant chunk of its revenue through gate receipts, which has been reported as high as 40 percent.
The league is hoping to make up for those losses in part with a shorter break between seasons, one that will thrust the Lakers and Miami Heat into a new season just 72 days after Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
While it is likely to add stress to an already unusual offseason that will host free agency likely just days before players have to report to their markets (expected to be Dec. 1), the financial implications are widely seen to be too great to ignore.
The presumed agreement would sidestep a nuclear option of ending the CBA and the league’s revenue split with the players. The NBA and NBPA already have extended the deadline for an agreement four times, the last of these extensions landing on Friday. ESPN reported earlier this week that Commissioner Adam Silver told team owners that the league was running out of time to start the season in December if negotiations dragged on longer.
ESPN reported that the expedited timeline will mean the NBA’s trade moratorium would be lifted after the changes to the CBA, followed by the NBA Draft on Nov. 18. The New York Times reported that free agency could begin two or three days following the draft.
One of the major factors that still has to be settled is the amount of player salary held in escrow. ESPN reported the league will hold an estimated 18 percent over the next two years to smooth out the revenue losses. The NBA typically holds 10 percent of player salary in escrow until the revenue split between players and owners is determined at the end of the season.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks estimated $720 million to $800 million would be held in escrow under the presumed model for next season.
While the title-winning Lakers will have to thrust quickly back into the fray with a roster of veterans, many other teams have had more normal offseasons, including the eight non-bubble teams that have not played since March 11, and non-playoff teams which were eliminated from the Orlando bubble by Aug. 15.
A fast-track offseason will also allow the NBA to begin getting back in sync with its traditional calendar year and finish before the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, both insulating the league from more television competition (ratings dipped dramatically this postseason) and getting players and personnel back to their regular four-month offseason.
It’s unclear how the NBA will schedule games and travel or play in markets that still restrict the number of people at gatherings. COVID cases have been rising nationally over the last month, and other sports leagues – particularly the NFL and college football – have struggled with playing games with regular travel in home markets due to positive tests.