The NBA has indefinitely suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As for what’s next, no one knows for certain.
What we can safely say is that we won’t be watching live NBA basketball for a while, and the ramifications of that reality are widespread. Non-salaried employees of teams and arenas might be left without income. The league’s schedule is completely in flux. Two players on the Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, and there’s no telling how many more athletes around the country and world will follow suit. And those are just a few areas of concern.
For the NBA and its teams, financial losses will be front of mind. In a recent article, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh estimated that nearly $500 million could be lost in ticket revenue without fans in attendance for the final stretch of the season. That estimate came from a "high-ranking team official" before the season was suspended.
Here’s what Haberstroh wrote:
On Wednesday, the NBA discussed with the Board of Governors the plan going forward in case the situation escalated, deciding whether to play in empty arenas or go on a temporary hiatus. Leading up to that meeting, I spoke with one of the Governors about the possibility of playing in empty arenas for the rest of the season in light of the Warriors’ announcement. The long-time executive downplayed that likelihood.
“We will move games to neutral courts in Idaho where there aren't any cases before we went to a nuclear option,” the high-ranking team official said, who wasn’t authorized by the league to speak publicly on the issue.
Obviously, things have changed.
As a rule of thumb, the source said, the NBA makes an average of $1.2 million in gate revenue per regular season game and $2 million for each playoff game. With 259 of 1,230 regular season games remaining, that means roughly $300 million of ticket revenue lost if fans couldn’t purchase tickets. Over the past decade, on average, there have been 83 playoff games in each postseason, which would lead to another loss of about $166 million.
That’s nearly $500 million in estimated lost ticket revenue if the NBA doesn’t allow fans to attend the full slate of games. But according to sources around the league, crowds were already dwindling with some teams seeing 60 percent the normal capacity on Wednesday’s games.
Also of note is that attendance was already beginning to wane, even before the league suspended play. It all serves to underscore the sheer magnitude of this story.