Typically in an NBA season some of the biggest moments in the regular season are opening night, Christmas Day, and a few primetime match-ups mixed in here and there. The NBA has decided those few important games throughout the course of the season do not build the excitement that is needed going into an NBA playoffs. Last year’s NBA finals was the lowest rated finals in the history of the NBA. Now, it is important to know that because of COVID the league had to push back their season into the fall. This meant the NFL and the NBA were going to be going on at the same time, meaning games would overlap. Although this can explain the dip in ratings for this past NBA season, it did show the gap between the NFL and the NBA. Regular season NFL games were crushing some of the most pivotal NBA Finals games in ratings and even before that in previous rounds of the playoffs.
One of the reasons the NBA cannot build anticipation going into the playoffs is because the least exciting point in the season is right before the playoffs start. Teams that have already clinched a high playoff seed rest their best players, sometimes even in marquee matchups. Also, since half of the teams are eliminated from the postseason many of the games don’t mean very much toward the end of the year.
What was one of the ways the NBA was going to fix this? They created a play-in tournament. The way the play-in tournament works is all the teams that are in seeds 7-10 enter their own contest. The seventh place team would play the eighth place team, and the ninth place team would play the tenth place team. The winner of the seven vs eight matchup would get the seventh seed and would be in the playoffs. The loser of the matchup would then play the winner of the nine vs ten matchup. The winner of that game would secure themselves the final spot in the playoffs.
This kept teams that were in places nine through twelve engaged and playing good basketball because they realized they had a chance to get into the playoffs if they just made it into the play-in. It also kept teams that were in places five through eight interested because they had to make sure they didn’t fall into the play-in tournament.
So far it has worked very well, as players are playing in as many games as they can trying to get their team into the play-in tournament or into a top-six seed so they can avoid the contest altogether.
We will see if the NBA posts good ratings throughout these play-in games, and throughout the playoffs. They have made the right adjustments to the season, let’s see if it translates to better ratings in the TV department.