CHICAGO — NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated the league would lose hundreds of millions in revenue from the ongoing disconnect with the Chinese government and couldn’t commit to staging preseason games there next October. Although he admitted there wasn’t a timeline, he said his sense was that the league’s relationship with China would have “a return to normalcy fairly soon.”
With Chinese companies pausing or canceling sponsorship deals, the league recently lowered its salary-cap projections for next season. Silver said the losses were “probably less than $400 million, maybe even less than that” in the wake of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong last October and the NBA’s response to it.
In addition to loss of sponsor money, games have been totally pulled from broadcast television (CCTV) in China, cutting off millions of fans. Games streamed on the internet have been reduced. The outbreak of the coronavirus and the response to that outbreak have slowed many business matters.
“It’s substantial, I don’t want to run from that,” Silver said at his annual All-Star Weekend news conference. “We were taken off the air in China for a period of time, and it caused our many business partners in China to feel it was, therefore, inappropriate to have ongoing relationships with us. But I don’t have any sense that there’s any permanent damage to our business there. … We accept the consequences of our system and our values. It’s not a position any business wants to be in, but those are the results.”
Silver said there were ongoing discussions about whether Team USA would play pre-Olympic exhibition games in July or if the NBA would return for China Games in October. Team USA is scheduled to spend a week in Shanghai before going to Tokyo, playing at least one exhibition game with France as a potential opponent.
Silver hedged on the matter, saying Team USA playing in China might mean the league wouldn’t have also chosen to play the preseason games. Last year, the NBA had made its announcement in early January about the China Games, which included the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets.
All timelines are complex for these issues. Despite working with counterparts in China, there isn’t clarity on how the sanctions would be lifted or who might make such a decision.
“We are not pressing them. It’s a decision that’s outside of certainly our control, and I will say I’m often not even sure exactly where that decision lies,” Silver said. “I think that our view as the league is we should continue doing the things that we’ve done in the past.”
He added: “I know that, from the data we look at, there continues to be enormous interest for the NBA in China, and my sense is that there will be a return to normalcy fairly soon, but I can’t say exactly when, when it comes to CCTV.”
Silver also addressed proposed NBA schedule changes. The league spent months talking to teams, the players’ association and media partners about creating an in-season tournament and a play-in tournament for the postseason. But the league decided to table a vote among owners on the matter that was set for April, making it unlikely changes could be implemented for the 75th anniversary season in 2021-22 as was hoped.
But Silver dismissed the setback and reaffirmed his intention to find a way to change the 82-game regular season the NBA has used for more than 50 years.
“I strongly believe we will end up with some sort of in-season tournament and a play-in tournament,” Silver said. “The end result, and I can’t say exactly when it will be, I think, is a re-presented regular season in the league.”