While the Coronavirus pandemic has caused havoc worldwide and continues to bring disruption and torment to many, the NBA is set to return after a long hiatus. With the league entering the Playoffs more than three months later than normal and all games taking place in one Eastern location, this could be the NBA’s greatest opportunity to develop its presence in the United Kingdom, for a number of reasons.
UK-FRIENDLY GAME TIMES
All of the NBA’s remaining games will take place in Orlando, Florida, which is five hours behind the UK, meaning a huge reduction in the amount of games that start in the early hours of the morning. In prior years, following your Playoff team from the UK, particularly for Western Conference teams, meant setting your alarm for 3am and turning up to work devoid of energy for the duration of your teams’ run in the postseason.
With all the games taking place in one Eastern location, there are plenty of matchups taking place at convenient times – with seven games starting at 11pm or earlier on the first weekend of the NBA’s return. No longer will it just be the committed NBA superfan setting their alarms; there is now the opportunity for new fans to engage with the games at watchable hours.
BIG NETWORK COVERAGE
Another factor benefiting new, old and soon-to-be NBA fans is the presence of games on Sky Sports. Watching the remainder of the season and Playoffs will not require purchasing NBA League Pass (unless you want to watch every game) as those with Sky Sports can watch games every day from the league’s return on July 30. Since Sky began showing the NBA almost two years ago and commissioning the show, ‘NBA Heatcheck’, UK fans have had unprecedented access to the sport and it will only help to develop the league’s presence as coverage continues.
A LACK OF IMPORTANT FOOTBALL
It’s no secret that football is the dominant sport in the UK. Had the NBA Playoffs taken place as expected in May-July, it would have had to compete with the culmination of the Premier League, EFL seasons, domestic and European club cup finals, as well as Euro 2020. Now with the leagues finished, the Champions League finishing on August 23 and the European Championships postponed until 2021, the NBA Playoffs has the opportunity to capture the attention of sports fans like never before.
The late-night/early-morning games are enough to dissuade many of the adult fans, and are a complete no-go for children attending school the next day. However, the resumption of the season coincides with the school summer holidays, providing young people (and teachers) with the opportunity to watch basketball for the first time, without worry of being tired at school the next day. This one-off summer splurge of NBA games could lead to the birth of a new, young basketball fans that remain for years to come.
A GROWING COMMUNITY OF UK FANS
In the past, the #NBAintheUK was a niche, lonely existence for the hardcore fan. Unlike football, there’s no one at the pub chatting about that play from last night’s game, nor can you start a conversation with someone about who will make the eighth seed in the West this year. However, that is not the case anymore.
Thanks to the growth of social media, UK-based fans can connect like never before. The development of UK-based fan groups, websites, twitter accounts, podcasts, YouTube channels and the like has been simply astounding. The majority of the content is top notch, and is put together by volunteers driven by their sheer passion for the sport. You only have to look at TW itter accounts like @NBA_UKfans and the abundance of team-specific fan accounts popping up, as well as the engagement on our recently developed Discord chat (which you can join here) to see that there is a growing hunger and you no longer need to feel alone as you support your team from thousands of miles away. There is no doubt about it, the #NBAintheUK family is moving from strength to strength.
With the season set to return to its normal pattern throughout next season, this could be the one and only opportunity to consume meaningful summertime basketball this side of the pond. The combination of all the above factors makes for a unique situation, and one that could see the NBA take its largest step forward in the United Kingdom in a very long time.
Tom is a teacher based in Stoke-on-Trent and can usually be found playing 2K, drumming or hosting his other podcast, Almighty Pod, when he's not cheering on his beloved Celtics. He contributes with articles and is regularly featured on our podcast, where he typically shoehorns conversations to do with anything trade, free agency or draft-related!