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NBA’s Future Shaped by Futbol as ‘IST’ Viewership Skyrockets

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Credit: NBA

The NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament has emerged as a remarkable success, both in viewership and fan engagement, setting new benchmarks and significantly enhancing the league’s digital footprint. This success is exemplified by the extraordinary 2.2 billion video views on the NBA’s social media platforms and app, marking an impressive 80% increase compared to the same period last year. The tournament’s championship game, featuring the Lakers and Pacers, garnered 4.58 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2, making it the most-watched non-Christmas NBA regular-season game in nearly six years and highlighting the tournament’s wide-ranging appeal.

Beyond mere viewership, the NBA In-Season Tournament’s impact was profound in terms of engagement. The championship game set a new record as the most-engaged NBA League Pass game ever, with viewers tuning in for over 1.5 hours on average. During the tournament, the daily average viewership on League Pass jumped by 45% compared to the same period last season. The tournament also boosted player popularity, particularly for Tyrese Haliburton, who saw the largest increase in Instagram followers among all players, bolstered by his outstanding performance. His presence on NBA social channels attracted 122 million video views, placing him among the top 10 players in terms of popularity. These figures clearly demonstrate the tournament’s impact in expanding the NBA’s digital presence and enhancing player profiles.

The NBA’s decision to incorporate the In-Season Tournament (IST) into its culture raises important questions about its future implications beyond financial and ratings success. What does this mean for the league’s future?

Mirroring a practice common in European and South American futbol, the NBA’s introduction of a $500,000 prize and the NBA Cup for its In-Season Tournament brings a new dimension to the league. In Europe, apart from the UEFA Champions League, teams compete in domestic cup competitions like England’s FA Cup, Spain’s Copa del Rey, and Germany’s DFB-Pokal. In South America, clubs vie in esteemed tournaments like the Copa Libertadores, the Copa Sudamericana, and the Recopa Sudamericana. These tournaments add layers of excitement and prestige to the sport. The NBA Cup and In-Season Tournament adopt this concept, enhancing the excitement and competitive spirit in basketball and diversifying the season’s calendar.

Additionally, these developments serve to enhance players’ legacies. Since its inception in 1946, the NBA has continuously evolved, adding elements that elevate player profiles. The All-Star Game started in 1951, with the All-Star Game MVP award following in 1953. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award began in the 1955-1956 season, the Finals MVP trophy in 1969, and the All-Defensive Team in the 1968-1969 season. The popular Slam Dunk Contest started in 1984, and the Defensive Player of the Year award was introduced 36 years after the NBA’s birth.

The NBA Cup and In-Season Tournament might face skepticism now, but over time, they will likely shift the sport’s evolution towards a model that incorporates both individual and team awards, similar to futbol. In the future, players like Victor Wembanyama could add an “NBA Cup” to their list of achievements, alongside championships, MVPs, DPOYs, and Finals MVPs, much like futbol players such as Messi and Ronaldo who claim trophies like the Copa De America and UEFA Super Cup. The NBA is evolving, and it’s looking to futbol as a model for its future.

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