Coming off one of the most dazzling NBA seasons in recent memory, fans, teams, players and sports marketers had circled Nov. 1 on their calendars -- the start of the 2011-2012 season.
But on Friday Commissioner David Stern announced that the first month of the season would be wiped out, as the players continue to be locked out, and dismissed the notion of an 82-game season in the midst negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement with the league and its team owners. Below, we take a look at those who have the most to lose (and, in two cases, win) from a prolonged NBA lockout or worse -- a complete cancellation of the season.
Regional Sports Networks
A lockout hurts any TV network that carries NBA games, but regional sports nets have the most to lose because they don't have easily substitutable live sports programming. (Sorry, high-school-sports lovers -- the ratings just don't match up.) "There's a huge disparity in ratings between a live game and a studio show or rebroadcast," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, who predicts they'll be hardest hit of all media. And if cable operators ask for refunds on the fees they pay to these networks, "they could be hit financially in both revenue streams."
TNT was scheduled to air 52 regular-season NBA games, along with the All-Star game and the Western Conference Finals -- together, the core of the network's lucrative sports programming. The uncertain environment is leading buyers to proceed with caution for buys later in the season -- and secure the ability for cash back, said Jeremy Carey, a U.S. director at Optimum Sports, a division of Omnicom Group.
Turner was able to provide some advertisers with TV spots during Major League Baseball's playoffs, but with its baseball coverage over, the network will have to look to other programming to hit target demographics.
"Turner has a diverse portfolio of programming and platforms to provide advertisers with a broad range of options for their distinct brand message," Sal Petruzzi, senior VP-communications for Turner Sports, wrote in an email.
ESPN and ABC
Disney-owned ESPN has an advantage over Turner because it can slot in other compelling sports programming, though much of it won't match the ratings of marquee NBA matchups. "We have a contingency plan in place consisting mostly of college football and basketball games in November," the network said in a statement. Its biggest worry is if the lockout extends through the end of 2011, knocking out a much-anticipated Christmas Day tentpole: a tripleheader split between ESPN and ABC, which also broadcasts the NBA Finals.
League and Team Sponsors/Partners
Gatorade, American Express, Kia and Taco Bell have known for some time that a lockout was possible. But that doesn't make strategy adjustments any easier to swallow.
"If you invest in [a pro-sports sponsorship] and then that 's lost for a significant period of time, there are sweepstakes that can't be run, national television campaigns that are no longer relevant," said John Brody, principal, Wasserman Media Group, and former CMO for the Boston Celtics.
Arenas and Those Who Hold Naming Rights
Arenas are caught in a costly wait-and-see game that limits their ability to secure fill-in events should more of the season be canceled. At the same time, brands that own the naming rights to arenas are losing significant media exposure. "If you're Conseco and you are a naming-rights partner of a basketball-only arena (Conseco Fieldhouse), you have a lot to lose," said one media executive.
Orlando is slated to host the 2012 NBA All-Star game, which will be canceled should the lockout extend to December. The game would likely be delayed to 2014 or 2015, meaning the city would still eventually rake in the millions of dollars that come with hosting the weekend of events. Still, Orlando will miss the opportunity to show off its new arena. While other small-market teams have cut costs, the Magic's ownership and the city have both invested considerably in their franchise.
The Marketability of Every NBA Player Who's Not a Superstar (or Married to a Kardashian)
LeBron James and Dwayne Wade's marketing deals transcend the sport. "The [type of ] person it affects is the Derrick Rose or the Blake Griffin, whose deals are still basketball-related," said David Schwab, who runs Octagon First Call. "It also affects the smaller guy who is making $5,000 to $20,000 to show up at a retail store to sign autographs and do a meet-and-greet."
As the he-said-he-said battle between players and owners spilled into the public domain over the past few weeks, the average fan didn't choose sides.
"A lot of the fans look at the players and league as a collective," said Bryce Townsend, CEO, Group M Entertainment & Sports Partnerships. "The league has a lot of great young players, great rivalries and renowned coaches. It's never been stronger from a fan perspective. It's really an inopportune time."
With ESPN airing across its platforms 250 more college basketball games than it did last year—slotting some into prime-time spots previously earmarked for NBA games—the national spotlight on the NCAA will grow. Audiences and marketing opportunities should follow.
"We think college basketball stands to benefit in a couple of ways because several higher profile players stayed in college to avoid the lockout, and basketball fans probably migrate," said Tony Pace, CMO of Subway. "And we've made moves to take advantage of that ."
National Hockey League enters this season arguably with its strongest fan base since a lockout wiped out its entire 2004-2005 season. Since the season's overlap, hockey stands to see at least some viewership gains. And look for a possible surge in NHL ticket sales, which is good for the box-office-driven sport.