In light of the lockout, K., a loyal MR reader, poses me this question. Football, after all, gets by with a relatively small number of games, namely sixteen. Every game is an event and a ritual. So how about a 44-game season for basketball?
Fortunately for me, I don’t think this will work economically. Why not?
1. Basketball is much more star-driven than football, which I take to be team-driven (“the Dallas Cowboys,” etc.). In basketball, the goal is maximum exposure of the few top stars to as many markets as possible: “Daddy, I want to go see Kobe Bryant.” There are only five starters and you can see Kobe’s face and scowl the whole time.
2. Basketball depends partly on particular individual superlative performances, such as massive scoring nights by the top stars and signature dunks. This requires a lot of games to be run.
3. Correctly or not, a single football game is taken as a decisive test of team quality. While I would not argue that the best team always wins the Super Bowl, the game does seem to settle something in people’s minds. A single basketball game too often is very close, depends on foul calls and refereeing, and depends on what appears to be luck, such as whether or not a final shot rims in and out of the basket. In basketball, it is harder to get the single game to be so meaningful. In football, a lot of games aren’t very close at all.
4. With the “game as ritual” strategy denied, basketball resorts more to a saturation strategy, if only to remind viewers and fans that it exists.
5. The inputs which get worked hard, namely the players and the arenas, don’t always have high opportunity costs. Basketball involves less physical wear and tear than does football, which could not consider an 82-game regular season.
The funny thing is, I don’t even watch the NBA regular season, I simply like knowing that it exists and that I can read about it on ESPN and the like. That longer process, to me, makes the playoffs seem more real.