The NFL remains the king of major sports in the United States, but its advantage is no longer as clear as it once was. The NBA has been thriving in recent years, with more fan interest and revenue than ever before. Building on this success, commissioner Adam Silver appears to have made a clear effort to turn the league into a year-round source of entertainment, even though the actual season only stretches about seven months (including the playoffs) and it seems to be working.
The biggest adjustment is the creation (or re-branding) of the developmental league. Long known as the D-League and viewed as something of a joke even by hardcore basketball fans, the NBA’s developmental affiliate has now become the G-League, with the ‘G’ standing for Gatorade, the key sponsor. The NBA and sponsors are putting more money into the league in an effort to turn it into a more respectable farm system that will generate more fan interest. If successful, this will shine a brighter spotlight on the NBA’s offseason, and particularly the June draft and July-August summer leagues. These offseason events feature a lot of players bound for the G-League, and if that league is more prominent, it stands to reason that the draft and summer league will draw more attention.
Another interesting move was the NBA announcing its support for an eSports league based on the NBA 2k gaming franchise. It’ll be the first eSports league to operate with official backing from a major sporting organization, and that should naturally give it a leg up on its competition. The league’s season will run alongside that of the actual NBA, and while it’s unclear how tight the partnership will be, we know it will expand the NBA’s audience. And just as intense basketball fans stay plugged in during the offseason to keep track of news and player movements, we’ll likely see whole communities of 2k gamers taking an interest year-round as well.
But another direct effort by the NBA to establish more reach during the summer months was unveiled recently and revolved pretty heavily around well-known Toronto Raptors super fan (and NBA junkie) Drake. Best known for his smooth verses and guest work for innumerable rap stars, Drake has also become a celebrity presence on the NBA circuit. That being said, he even he might have been surprised that he was asked to host the inaugural NBA Awards Show.
In the past, the NBA has doled out its top awards (MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc.) without a whole lot of fanfare. The award winners were simply announced, as is the case in most sports. But this year, the league experimented with making a spectacle out of it, complete with a red carpet and acceptance speeches. It was a little bit like a mini-Oscars for the NBA, and this first year at least, it all revolved around Drake. The artist hosted the entire event, announcing awards, cracking jokes related to the league and the audience, and overall doing a pretty great job.
It might have actually been the league’s most brilliant effort to extend its presence during the offseason. Just as the Oscars occur in February, essentially prolonging the previous year’s film season an extra couple of months, an NBA Awards Show in late June or early July gives fans something to look forward to weeks after the season actually ends (and before the summer leagues get going). It was a bizarre experiment that a lot of NBA fans actually criticized. But thanks to Drake’s hosting effort, as well as a few great moments from the players, the first year seems to have been a success.
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