WWYDW(SE): What can the NHL learn from the NBA?

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:

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

  • puckle-head

    I’m not sure parity is the advantage you say it is. Watching a juggernaut lightening team was fun, and sure seeing them swept by the blue jackets was also exciting, but it only felt that way because of their juggernaut status in the first place. Too much parity makes it feel like we’re just flipping coins most nights

    • Serious Gord

      At least small markets have a chance of winning the cup. In the NBA stars are so decisive and they are able to go where they want the big market teams are the only ones that have a chance.

      The Oiler would have no chance. EVER. You would be okay with that?

      • Tier 1 Fan

        The difference is because the NHL has a hard cap. If the NBA had a hard cap, you would see more parity.
        The Warriors, before they got Kevin Durant was actually the one example of how to draft and build a championship calibre team which made itself attractive for free agents to come there.
        You’re also wrong about the “big market teams” only having a chance. The Lakers and knicks are the 2 biggest markets and are the laughing stock of the league. Milwaukee which is a small market team had the best record in the NBA.

      • Lets look at the last few champions by market size rank:

        Golden State – 11th
        Cleveland – 20th
        San Antonio – 26th
        Miami – 17th
        Dallas – 8th
        A top 5 market hasn’t won since 2010. A top 10 market hasn’t won since Dallas in 2011.

        The only top 10 markets in the western Conference failed to make the playoffs. The Knicks finished dead last in the league and the Bucks finished first winning 60 games.

        Obviously there are some advantages to big market teams but the idea that big market teams are the only one that can win is ridiculous. The most dominant teams seen in recent years are Oakland, Cleveland, San Antonio, Miami, and OKC. This years regular season leader is a bottom 5 market along with OKC and San Antonio.

        Try taking 20 seconds on the google machine next time

        • Serious Gord

          You are correct. I misspoke. I should have said market desirability. And qualified it by saying that this phenomenon really started in earnest when LeBron moved to Miami for the 2010-2011 season.

          From that point the superstars of the league now determine who makes the final four. There are – as always – a few exceptions – the Bucks and the Raptors (who fluked into getting Leonard for one season) but the predominant trend is obvious to anyone who is listening. And there certainly is much discussion in the league as to how to prevent it.

          Also there is a hard cap in the NBA with the addition of franchise player status for one superstar. This I believe goes all the way back to Larry bird.

          Additionally the lack of hope is also revealed in the attendance figures for uncompetitive/no hope teams. They are far worse and there are far more of them than in the NHL.

          What differentiates the NBA from the NHL is the TV revenues. Basketball is a far more global sport and is played at some point or level by virtually every American, is played with equipment you can wear on the street, has and exhibits the stars, by its very nature, far more than the NHL can or does. And that isn’t going to change…

  • CMG30

    Absolutely. The traditionalists who run the NHL like to pretend that everyone is like them. We’re turning off fans left and right for no good reason. Come on NHL, get with the times.

  • Fireball

    The NHL is becoming more and more like the NBA every year. No touching, no hitting, and no fighting are soon to be mainstays in the NHL. KL is arguably one of the best if not the best in the game his personality really is on display every night ! LMAO. It’s two different sports, they aren’t even in the same ball park. The whole presentation of the game and utilization of the players is like night and day. NBA is built on one line. Everyone else is just filler to give guys a rest. I used to watch basketball all the time when I was a kid. The players are bigger stronger faster than ever and it’s almost effortless for them. Maybe they should add 50’ to the courts and 2’ higher nets. Either way I’m watching because it’s CANADA and I’m less interested in The Cup final because of no CANADA. I’d go ahead a guess the boosted ratings in Canada are directly related to that lack of Canada teams in the playoffs. Either way it’s back and forth run and gun ., finish taking hitting and fighting out of hockey and it’ll be just like BB.

  • I love the focus on home crowds during the playoffs. You got the crowd T-shirts and chants, home crowds in the playoffs is most visible in basketball. The pregame intro video the Raptors played gave me complete chills. OEG could learn a few things from the Raptors on the ice and the stands

  • Oiler Al

    NBA was right in calling out Drake.He should leave his ego in the trunk of his car when he comes to the games.
    His star shines on a differtent stage. The players are the stars on the court.Sit down and watch the game like the rest of the fans.If it was any other Joe, he would be tossed from the game.

  • Datsyukian

    What we sure need in NHL is players showing their individuality both on and off the ice. Watching players’ interviews in intermissions and after games is worse than watching paint dry. Make a joke, yank the reporter’s chain a bit, don’t just say a couple of platitudes. Also, it drives me crazy that every players does this mantra about praising the “team” and diminishing themselves. In a way, we need more players like Brad Marchand.

  • Serious Gord

    The NHL can learn almost nothing from the NBA.

    The sports are very different. Stars are on the floor much longer and handle the ball far more often in the NBA and thus it is a star driven league.

    The best seats at a game are in the floor. some NHL lower seats are awful. No way to really fix that.

    I’m glad we don’t have clowns like drake and spike lee in the NHL.

    What needs addressing in orgs like EDM is off-ice entertainment. Many teams like Tampa do a far far better job.

    And the TV needs to drop the in between player interviews and perhaps jazz up the coverage – not sure what that would look like.


    Drake is a tool and his music sucks dog balls. Second, hockey is a TEAM game as where basketball can be dominated by one or two star players on a team.

    • Derian Hatcher

      This ^^^ times 1000… Narcissistic, entitled, attention-seeking, self-serving, ignorant, arrogant, joke. Does Drake think he’s part of the team? What a complete and utter loser. Ryan Whitney captured it beautifully on Spittin’ Chicklets. What a clown show Drake is!

        • Derian Hatcher

          Sure – so is Bob Stauffer – but do you see him making an idiot of himself down near the bench during the games ? I can hardly wait until Drake becomes irrelevant – the time is near. His desperate attempts for attention are pathetic.

  • abbeef

    I think the biggest thing the NHL could learn from the NBA is to call the rules that are in place to open up the game for the most skilled players. The NBA refs are no better than the NHL refs (and probably more corrupt) but if you compare how the NBA calls the game now to 20 years ago they have eliminated a lot of the grabbing and uncalled fouls. If you watched the NHL stars play they are constantly being hooked, grabbed and generally interfered with and it is accepted as part of the game even though it is against the rules in the rule book.

    I think the take away would be to call the rules as they are supposed to be so we can see the most talented players do their thing.

  • jake

    One way I would like to see NHL copy NBA is roster size. Be gone the 4th line. Won’t contract the league to allow more stars per team resulting in continued trap style hockey? Then eliminate the 4th line and 93 jobs. Don’t see trap basketball.

  • Frank Rizza

    I love hockey the most but by far my second favourite sport is basketball. Just for the record I’m cheering for the Warriors so I’m not just jumping on any bandwagon now. I’ve been more interested in the NBA playoffs than the NHL playoffs for at least the last 9 years except that run in 2017 and even then as soon as the oilers were done I was watching LeBron do his magic. I’ve always felt that the NHL peaks in the first round while the NBA gets better as it goes. The real negative is that there is almost never upsets in the NBA playoffs. You will almost never see an 8th seed beat a 1 seed. While the parity in the NHL is overall a better thing but the NHL hurts itself by treating stars like 4th liners and drastically changing its rules in the playoffs. We all love the intensity of the NHL playoffs, but I wish they would just call the damn rule book.