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League and Networks Drop the Ball

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Time for the rare TV logistics complaint piece.

The disclaimer here is that we're usually quite loath to engage in these sorts of complaints because there is an understanding here of the difficulty of logistics.  We are all often guilty of making out the issue of moving programming around to be a far simpler matter than it actually is for the people in charge.  There is no doubt that there are headaches upon headaches involved with setting up broadcast schedules, particularly for playoff tournaments in which the executives never know which games are actually going to end up being played.  Since the general feeling from yours truly is that the headaches of understanding what's going on aren't worth the time, it usually seems fairest to leave the executives be and accept the reality of certain situations.

But the last two nights have made that just a bit too tough to do in this case.

Over those two nights (and perhaps it happened earlier in the playoffs, but I can't recall the incidences offhand), the league has faced situations in which the two non-NBA TV games played each night came from the same conference.  Tuesday featured Mavs-Hornets and Suns-Spurs, and Wednesday had Wiz-Cavs and Hawks-Celtics.  As per contractual policies, all four of the games mentioned were broadcast by Turner.

Because of the fact that the league had games from the same conference being played both nights, scheduling wasn't optimal because it wasn't as simple as one game fitting in the traditional early time slot (seven or eight o'clock) and the other following at 9:30 or 10:30.  In both cases, the powers that be opted to err on the side of having the second game not start at an absurdly late hour.  The Suns and Spurs tipped at 9:30 EST (8:30 local), and the Hawks and Celts went at 8:30 in the East.  Late, but not terrible.

But err they did.  Because both of the early games started at six o'clock locally.

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Undoubtedly, we're long past the point at which the national broadcast became the first priority.  The appeal of staggering the start times of the games is generally quite understandable.  If the games are all at different times, people spend more time in front of the television, which means they see more advertisements, which means advertisers are willing to pay more money to the networks because they know that there is a better chance of having their ads seen by more citizens.  It's appealing to us basketball junkies as well simply because it's always fun to take a weekend day to lounge around and watch four straight NBA playoff games and see every second of them.  In theory, it's great for national audiences to generally not have to choose between games.

But there has to be some point at which we see at least some modicum of respect paid to the people actually shelling out the money (and the time and travel) to come watch these games in person.

In the regular season, when tickets are cheaper, the games mean less and casual fans tend to be less concerned with exactly how much of the game they actually see, no typical weeknight game is going to start prior to seven o'clock local time.  Yet in the interest of staggering the schedule in the playoffs -- when fans are more likely to be paying hundreds of dollars for single game tickets and the games mean quite a bit more, which results in paying customers likely caring a bit more about how much they see -- it is apparently perfectly okay to start games at six.  As in barely an hour after the average working man (or woman) gets off from work, and in some cases, exactly when he or she is finishing working. 

No prior warning.  No pointing out that there could be a drastic change in weeknight starting times between regular season and playoff games.  None of that.  Simply an announcement less than 48 hours before the game that the official start time would be six o'clock.  The folks who paid for the tickets with the money they made working all day through five appear to mean quite little.  The folks who need to head home to pick up families?  Eh.  Or who have a lengthy commute from their workplace?  Whatever.  The season-ticket holders who support the team all year by busting it from work through traffic to get to all the seven o'clock weeknight starts on time?  Too bad.  Ya see what ya see.  But the folks sitting on their couches at home won't have to choose between two games that might happen to overlap!  Yeah, baby!

Somehow, I can't buy that this is the best possible solution.  Worth noting, of course, is that while TNT is the channel that carries NBA games with regularity, Turner Sports does have two networks at its disposal: Turner Network Television (TNT) and Turner Broadcasting System, better known as TBS.  Of course, TBS has quite the busy schedule, since the channel carries one live baseball game every Sunday afternoon and appears to spend the rest of the week carrying hours of re-runs of "Law and Order," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Family Guy," "Seinfeld" and some unfunny-looking deal named after the group that once sang "What Is Hip?"  Yeah.  We could never ask the folks over there to bump any of that sort of high-action, time-sensitive stuff for, say, the NBA playoffs.

Oh, right.  We could do exactly that.  From seven to eleven on Wednesday night, TBS carried  an hour of "Everybody Loves Raymond" re-runs, an hour of old "Family Guy" and two hours of some Tyler Perry show whose title I have yet to learn (forgive me, please).  This all led up to "Friends," which was annoying enough when it was had new episodes every now and then. Seems like just the type of channel that could have played home to the Cavs and Wizards so as to allow the game to start an hour later, thus giving a far greater percentage of the paying customers at least a decent shot at making this contest on time.

Of course, as was mentioned atop this piece, there is an understanding here that I'm making this out to be simpler than it is.  I don't know what the league's broadcast rules are about game scheduling and if there are any contractual clauses that would prevent a sister network like TBS from coming into the picture to help out.  But it simply seems like the common sense solution, and one would think that the league would be hard-pressed to claim that there isn't a way that to improve on the current scheduling system.

Again, yes, having the games overlapping (this would have allowed the Celts to roll at eight local time rather than 8:30 -- which turned into 8:45 thanks to the closeness of the preceding game) isn't exactly what the networks want.  But the national audiences and advertisers both could live with an arrangement like the one suggested.  The fact remains that fans of the teams involved in these games want to see their teams play above all else.  I don't care how close Cleveland-Washington is; once the Celts are going, that's what I'm watching.  For the fans without a strict rooting interest, there are worse situations in life than having to toggle between two games rather than watching every second one after another.  Spacing the games out by an hour likely means that the second one will start while the first is at halftime, which only helps ease the overlap issue a bit.  And all of this would at least make it look like the league and the networks have some semblance of awareness of the plight of the attendees.

Even in this increasingly digital world of hours, there are still some, uh, traditionalist folks out there who continue to go to sporting events manually.   It might not kill anyone to show these paying customers some recognition every now and then.

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