For the first time ever, an NBA Finals is garnering more hype and excitement in Canada than the Stanley Cup Final. This, of course, is because the Toronto Raptors have reached the Finals for the first time in franchise history and millions of people across the country are jumping on the bandwagon.
The Raptors have captured the imagination of not just people in Toronto, but all over the country. Thousands poured out into the streets of Toronto after the Raptors punched their ticket to the Finals by beating the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6. The hype has spread across the country as multiple cities outside of Toronto are hosting outdoor viewing parties similar to Toronto’s Jurassic Park and bars pretty much everywhere are decking themselves out with Raptors themes. Game 1 of the NBA Finals unsurprisingly smashed viewership records for a basketball game in Canada.
Taylor Hall, who’s also jumped on the Raptors bandwagon, had an interesting quote about what’s learned from following the team’s playoff run:
Following the NBA more closely with this Raptors run has really opened my eyes to how great a league it is. There is a real sense of bravado and showmanship that you don’t see in other sports. The stars are on display every night and it’s impressive
— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) May 31, 2019
The Raptors’ run has really shined a light on what the NBA is all about for Canadian fans who didn’t pay much attention before this spring. What we’ve learned is, beyond exciting, high-energy, fast-paced play, the league features a wealth of interesting storylines and drama created through interesting characters. Much more so than the NHL, the NBA has an aspect of theatre that goes well beyond the game.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SUNDAY EDITION question. What can the NHL learn from the NBA? Is Taylor Hall right that the NHL is missing out when it comes to having showmanship as the NBA does? Or is the NHL better off being a league more focused on the game itself rather than the individuals within the league?
Whether you like the NBA and its theatrics or not, it’s impossible to deny that their model is working. While the NFL is rapidly losing fans due to social issues, the MLB is struggling to attract a younger generation of fans, and the NHL remains fairly stagnant in popularity, the NBA is growing rapidly in popularity.
According to Fortune, the NBA is growing at a much, much faster rate than the NFL, which, for decades, had been the juggernaut of North American professional sports leagues.
Overall revenues might be a better metric, and though that’s still somewhat opaque, it’s where the NFL’s weakness is most obvious. NFL revenue grew an estimated $900 million to $14 billion in 2017, or just short of 7% growth. Forbes, meanwhile, reports the most recent NBA season generated $7.4 billion for teams, up a staggering 25% from the year before.
That suggests the NBA is growing more than three times as fast as the NFL – and that could have startling impacts in just a few years. Using the most basic sort of growth calculation, current trends point to NFL revenues of around $28 billion by 2029 – about in line with a goal of $25 billion by 2027 Commissioner Roger Goodell set a little over a decade ago.
But the same calculations using the most recent growth numbers suggest that by 2029, NBA revenues will be – brace yourself – over $68 billion.
Basketball and hockey are incredibly different sports so the NHL and NBA are always going to be different. You can’t have the same courtside experience at an NHL game, so you won’t be seeing Drake wander around the ice in a Cup Final game and generate controversy like he has been for the Raptors all spring. That said, the NHL can still likely take something out of the NBA’s playbook when it comes to adding different layers of entertainment to the league.
But still, the NHL could certainly have more interesting personalities. More often than not, hockey players being outspoken or individualistic is frowned upon. Hockey culture lends itself to traditionalism, as we saw when many criticized the Carolina Hurricanes for doing their post-win Storm Surge celebrations this season. When looking at the NBA and how personalities make the league interesting, there’s no doubt hockey could benefit from loosening up a little bit.
That said, one thing the NHL does certainly have on the NBA is parity. The Golden State Warriors are in the Final for the fifth year in a row. Kevin Durant, arguably the best player in the league, joined the team a couple of years ago in free agency just to chase a ring. It’s widely speculated LeBron James will recruit star players like Anthony Davis away from smaller market teams to join him on the Los Angeles Lakers. This rightfully makes it difficult to be a fan of a smaller market team in the NBA.
What say you, Nation? Do you like what the NBA has going on? Would the NHL be smart to try to replicate some of it in their own way? Or do you prefer the NHL being a drama-free league?