Monday, August 1, 2011

NBA in Jeopardy of Falling to MLS Level

Stephon Marbury is the biggest NBA star to play in China.
The obvious big difference between the NBA and the NFL when it comes to options for where to play is that there are few other tackle football leagues around the world, but dozens of successful basketball leagues.  The NFL players have very little chance of making a living playing tackle football outside of the U.S., but for NBA players, there are numerous opportunities afforded them to play around the world.  Even FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, has come out in support of the NBA players, declaring them eligible to play in other world leagues while a lockout is in effect.

However you want to refer to it, lockout, strike, or impasse, what's at stake could be the downfall of the NBA.  If owners and players don't come to an agreement and the NBA doesn't play this year, a huge shift could be on the horizon.  An exodus of players could jumble up leagues and give other leagues a bigger profile among U.S. sports fans.  Fans may choose their favorite league to watch depending on their favorite players, the style of play (as leagues around the world have variations in rules that differ from the NBA), or on how different leagues are managed or refereed.

If a major change does occur in basketball and the NBA loses its status as 'best' world league, then it joins together with MLS as second-class citizens among their respective sports.  Neither league should feel too bad about their situation.  These are the 2 toughest sports to be #1 in as a league because they are the world's most popular sports.

No country in the recent history of spectator sport has ever been in charge of both the #1 Soccer and basketball leagues at the same time.  But, China stands a chance to accomplish this feat due to their bustling economy.  Who knows, there may come a time soon when ESPN is broadcasting Chinese club basketball for a U.S. audience, just as they broadcast EPL live on Saturday mornings.  So what then?

How will the NBA and MLS stay competitive with a Chinese league that is dolling out millions more for popular players?  After all, it is the 'Show Me The Money' attitude that is the most likely determination for where a professional athlete plays.  The chance to get paid to perform is why they do what they do.  It is a rare bird in professional sports that stays loyal or does anything to take less pay. 

Are we close to seeing the NBA resemble MLS as a second-tier league?  Hard to tell right now, but maybe so.  It's hard to deny the reality of what is financially happening around us.  The U.S. economy is in a deep recession, while other economies gain and even others surpass.

So, if the NBA and MLS lag behind other leagues, is there still a way to attract fans to the games and compel them to watch on TV?

Watching sports live, whether on TV or at the stadium, is what grabs sports fans most.  Sports, as indicated often on blogs or by commentators, is the greatest reality show ever invented.  Sports brings consistent drama to the lives of ordinary citizens more often than any other events.

Figuring out how to increase the value on the overall fan experience, whether basketball or Soccer, is the key.  It is a tough sell on U.S. sports fans to ask that they buy in on something in sports that is not the world's best.  It is a hard adjustment to make for U.S. sports fans, who are so accustomed to always thinking they are taking part in watching the highest level of sports entertainment.  Words like 'Super Bowl', 'World Series' or 'NBA Championship' have always been synonymous with 'best' team in the world.

U.S. sports fans are learning that MLS is not the world's best league, but can still provide excellent theater.  MLS started out this way, but for fans of the NBA, it has never been this way.  Things are changing fast though, and NBA fans may have to get used to those same feelings of MLS fans. 

Owners have to make money, but players don't have to play in the U.S.  This is what makes the NBA different from the NFL, but very similar to MLS.

A second-fiddle NBA changes the spectator sports landscape in the U.S.  NBA fans may need to learn to live with a different world order of basketball.  They can pick up tips from MLS fans on how to survive.

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