How Could Walt Disney World Host the NBA Playoffs?
A few weeks ago, I suggested that various sports leagues should explore the use of ESPN Wide World of Sports. With all major sports on hold due to Coronavirus, everyone is losing money.
The NBA and NHL seasons are currently incomplete, even though the playoff teams were mainly settled before the lockdown. Other sports like MLB haven’t even begun due to the pandemic. With nothing to air, ESPN is losing a fortune, which hurts The Walt Disney Company even more.
Since Disney actually owns and operates a viable host facility at Walt Disney World, one league has taken the idea to heart. NBA executives are considering the idea of finishing the season in Orlando.
Could Walt Disney World host the NBA Playoffs? The answer is absolutely yes. Here is why everyone is debating the viability of this idea.
How We Got Here
In a weird way, Americans will always associate the Coronavirus outbreak with the NBA.
A star player, Rudy Gobert, infamously touched a bunch of microphones as a joke about the viral nature of the pandemic. Then, he tested positive for Coronavirus.
Even worse, Gobert infected one of his teammates and caused a league-wide panic. Any team that had played against Gobert’s Utah Jazz over the past two weeks suddenly needed Coronavirus testing.
Four members of the Brooklyn Nets later contracted COVID-19, which speaks to the NBA’s difficulty. It’s a physical sport that requires players to touch one another repeatedly throughout the game.
The Utah Jazz never played the Nets. However, the two teams shared opponents. Did the league experience an outbreak? We will never know for sure.
After all, the Nets play in one of the five boroughs of New York City. As everyone knows by now, that city took the brunt of the first wave of Coronavirus.
So, maybe this is all Rudy Gobert’s fault, and maybe it isn’t. He’ll always be a punchline because of this fiasco. He’s not the reason why the league shut down, though.
In truth, the problem is the pandemic itself. Due to its airborne transmission, Coronavirus is highly contagious. It can spread quickly in close quarters, and NBA games definitely increase the odds of exposure.
Why Hasn’t the NBA Canceled Its Season Yet?
The NBA season has remained on hold for more than six weeks now. The playoffs are in jeopardy, which means a staggering financial loss for all parties.
People don’t realize this, but the NBA Finals are almost as lucrative as the Super Bowl!
The NFL’s championship game is a single-day event that hundreds of millions of people watch. It generated advertising revenue of $336 million in 2019.
However, the NBA Finals take place over multiple nights, which means that they’re a recurring revenue stream for teams and broadcast partners alike.
Kantar Media suggests that the 2019 NBA Finals accrued $288 million in revenue. That’s a much closer total than you would have expected, right?
Obviously, with so much money on the line, nobody wants to cede the playoffs. I mean, there are four rounds, and the final one alone nearly matches the Super Bowl!
From Disney’s perspective, the recent NFL Draft garnered record ratings. With no real sports playing right now in the United States, viewers are desperate for any content.
Even something sports-adjacent like the draft can attract massive viewer totals. The first night of the NFL Draft claimed a total audience of 15.6 million. Legitimate NFL games averaged 16.5 million viewers last year, less than one million more!
So, the NBA and Disney maintain strong financial incentives to hold the playoffs. The problem, of course, is the pandemic.
What’s the Disney Proposal?
The NBA has described its proposal as the “bubble concept.” The thought process is that basketball officials could host all the players at a single location.
With only a handful of people interacting during these playoffs, the NBA would dramatically reduce the odds of infection.
The idea involves a limited number of doctors, chefs, trainers, and other onsite employees plus league personnel. All of them would live in a single location until the season ends.
The NBA has explored several potential locations for this premise, although it has prioritized two of them. Las Vegas makes the most sense logistically, but governmental issues have reduced the league’s interest.
So, Walt Disney World has become the strongest contender as a bubble playoff site. As you know, the Disney campus includes ESPN Wide World of Sports.
During a typical week, this facility hosts many sporting events. Some of them involve children, while others are high school and college championships. The occasional professional event occurs here, too.
However, during the pandemic, this site isn’t in operation. So, it’s a location that already has basketball stadiums available, but it also features the security and isolation necessary.
We’re talking about the NBA Playoffs here. LeBron James is a participant in the event, along with several other players who are almost as famous.
This event can’t be held anywhere that would allow fans to show up. Otherwise, the virus could spread quickly. So, Disney’s secure campus is a massive advantage to league officials.
Disney also has easy access to the necessary foods and supplies that the NBA would need to protect its players.
In short, the autonomous nature of the Walt Disney World campus makes it appealing for this proposal.
How the Season Would Work
Several variants of the bubble concept are under debate right now. One of them would call for all NBA players to travel to Walt Disney World.
Each day, they’d participate in the remaining games on the NBA schedule. The league plays an 82-game, and the teams have currently played between 63 and 67 games.
So, the players would return for a 15-19 game season. Then, the qualifying teams would participate in the NBA Playoffs.
Now, this proposal isn’t sure to win. You probably already noticed a flaw with it. Some teams wouldn’t want to do this.
A team like the Atlanta Hawks or Golden State Warriors has no reason to play basketball. They’re eliminated from the playoffs, and additional games would expose players to needless risks.
For this reason, the smarter proposal is for the NBA to skip straight to playoffs. This decision would cause some irritation among teams in playoff contention but currently not one of the best eight teams in their leagues.
However, the NBA isn’t as bunched as in most years. No team is closer than 3.5 games from the playoffs. With fewer than 20 games left, these teams aren’t likely to get into the playoffs anyway.
So, the NBA should just skip to the playoffs right now. In this scenario, 16 teams would invite their players and coaching staff to Walt Disney World. There, they would remain embedded until their team gets eliminated.
Meanwhile, ESPN and TNT would air the NBA playoffs, garnering advertising revenue for the events. Simultaneously, players and other NBA employees would earn income.
This aspect is important because some of that money will go to people who might otherwise receive furloughs if the season doesn’t finish. In fact, that statement applies to everyone involved at ESPN and TNT, as well.
The Health Aspects of the NBA at Disney
Since Disney and the NBA already possess the infrastructure to implement this plan, you may wonder why they haven’t done it yet.
The answer is player resistance. People are dying every day from Coronavirus, and the NBA already absorbed a PR drubbing over the Rudy Gobert incident.
The league doesn’t want to risk the health of its players needlessly. Meanwhile, NBA athletes have watched some of their friends in the league suffer from the disease.
To achieve the bubble playoff season, players must leave their loved ones behind and go to Orlando. Some of them might have sick family members or small children. A few even have pregnant significant others who will give birth soon.
If you were in this position, would you want to jeopardize their health to play a game? Well, many players feel the same way.
Then, there’s the other aspect of the Rudy Gobert incident. NBA teams suddenly recognized the problem and started testing all their players, many of whom were asymptomatic.
Wealthy NBA owners bought tests that otherwise would have gone to needy patients. Outraged healthcare officials have vented about this for months.
At least one politician acknowledged it had happened, indicating that the wealthy getting better treatment is the way of the world.
The Cons of Finishing the NBA Season
So, the NBA is in a can’t win scenario here. To reopen the league, team officials must protect the health of their players.
To do so, they must acquire enough COVID-19 tests to perform them daily on everyone embedded at the facility. NBA officials believe that they would need 15,000 (!) tests for the entirety of the playoffs.
However, the NBA also must make sure that everyone else in the state of Florida has ample access to testing.
Otherwise, the perception is that the NBA season finishes at the expense of the health of Floridians. Healthcare officials could do a lot of good with 15,000 tests.
Daily testing is a must because if one player – or trainer or coach or security guard or television announcer – gets the disease, the entire league becomes susceptible. The insular nature of the bubble concept would work against it during an outbreak.
Another sticking point involves the structure of the league. Many of its coaches, announcers, and league officials are on the wrong side of 60.
For example, living legend Gregg Popovich is 71. Can you imagine the outcry if he contracted COVID-19 while trying to finish the season?
More Potential Issues
Then, there’s the length of the season. Since players don’t want to be there anyway, it needs to go fast.
Unfortunately, the league would need to play several hundred games to finish the season and the playoffs. This process would take about three months.
That’s why I believe that if the NBA season does continue, it’ll skip straight to the playoffs. Doing so would reduce the number of games by 75 percent.
Also, it would lower the number of potential people embedded in the bubble by nearly 50 percent. Both of these factors are important.
The other alternative is for everyone in the league to return and play daily until their season ends. Even then, we’re talking about a six-week process. In this scenario, if a player turns an ankle, it’s the equivalent of a season-ending injury.
Then, there’s the doomsday scenario. Imagine if LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kawhi Leonard contracts Coronavirus! The entire NBA will receive ridicule, negating the positives of the endeavor.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned another problematic situation. The fail rate on Coronavirus testing is high. So, the occasional false positive is a distinct possibility.
Were that to happen, the league might need to waste a large number of tests over an inaccurate test result.
Folks, I miss sports, too. Even so, the honest evaluation is that this proposal has more negatives than positives.
The only two real pros are that basketball fans get some entertainment, and businesses get some money.
Is that enough to endanger the health of hundreds of people? I guess the answer depends on how much you love basketball.
Personally, I think that Walt Disney World absolutely could host the NBA Playoffs but probably shouldn’t.