Earlier this year, the NBA decided to make a major change to the regular season: the addition of the NBA In-Season Tournament. Fans are questioning the need for the tournament, and many are confused about how the tournament works. But advertisers, media companies, and sponsors are already capitalizing on the intrigue surrounding this new mid-season changeup.
An in-season tournament is not a new thing in the world of sports. The NBA’s version is reminiscent of mid-season, multi-stage tournaments that European soccer fans are very familiar with, and it is almost identical to the WNBA’s Commissioner’s Cup.
The tournament was announced on July 8 on ESPN’s NBA Today, but fans are still left with questions: What is the format of the tournament? Does this affect a team’s regular season record? What incentives are there for teams to win? Here is how it all works:
The inaugural in-season tournament tipped off on Friday, November 3 and will finish with the Championship being held in Las Vegas on Saturday, December 9. The tournament begins with the Group Play stage.
All 30 NBA teams were drawn into six groups of five, three groups for each conference, according to their records from the previous season. Each team will play four games in the Group Play Stage, one against each of the other four teams in their group. All of these games will count towards the teams’ regular season records.
Following these Group Play Stage games, eight teams will advance to the Knockout Rounds: the six winners of the six groups, along with two “wildcard” teams. These wildcard teams will be the top two teams by group play stage record that did not win their group following any tiebreakers.
With each team only playing four games, ties are inevitable. The NBA decided that ties would be broken according to these tiebreakers in this order:
- Head-to-head record in the Group Stage
- Point differential in the Group Stage
- Total points scored in the Group Stage
- Regular season record from the 2022-23 NBA regular season
- Random drawing (in the unlikely scenario that two or more teams are still tied following the previous tiebreakers).
The six group winners and two wildcards will move on to the Knockout Rounds. These will be two single elimination rounds, a quarterfinal and semifinal. These games will also count towards the teams’ regular season records.
The two winners of the semifinals will advance to the championship for the chance to win the new In-Season Tournament Trophy, the NBA Cup. The championship will not count towards teams’ regular season record. The league will also name an In-Season Tournament MVP and an All-Tournament team following the championship.
All teams that make it to the Knockout Rounds or beyond will receive a portion of the In-Season Tournament prize pool. Every player on the championship-winning team will take home $500,000 each with the runners-up winning $200,000 each. Players on the teams who lost in the Semifinals will win $100,000 each and the teams who lost in the Quarterfinals will net $50,000 per player.
Despite the confusion surrounding the new tournament, the league, teams, and sponsors are already seeing it as a success. Attendance for these games is at a 26-year high compared to the same window in years past. Viewership is also through the roof. Friday’s game between the Phoenix Suns and the Lakers averaged 1.929 million viewers and is the most-watched In-Season Tournament game so far. ESPN reported that average-viewership of these games is up 55% compared to the same window last year.
Teams and sponsors are capitalizing on the early success through all different kinds of activations. Just to name a couple, Motorola is sponsoring an In-Season Tournament atrium party in Chicago and the 76ers are partnering with Chick-fil-A for a two-game tournament package that includes an exclusive t-shirt and a complimentary Chick-fil-A entre.
Media companies are taking notice as well. It has been widely reported that Netflix is expressing interest in picking up the live-game rights to the In-Season Tournament games. There are also rumors that Netflix could create a behind-the-scenes docuseries about the tournament, like their other sports docuseries including F1’s “Drive to Survive”, golf’s “Full Swing”, and tennis’ “Break Point”. This move would continue Netflix’s latest ventures into live sports.
Only time will tell if the In-Season Tournament will be a success. But there is palpable interest in this new addition to the NBA calendar.