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Hawks CEO Steve Koonin Suggests Pushing Start of NBA Season Back to December

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin speaks during a news conference to announce the sale of the NBA basketball team to an ownership group led by Tony Ressler, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

NBA fans and analysts have long asserted the season doesn’t truly begin until Christmas. Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin wants the schedule to reflect that.

Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on Friday, Koonin laid out a plan to shift the NBA season to run from December to August rather than the current setup of October to June. The shift would do away with the NBA competing with the end of the NFL season. 

“It’s because at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA,” he said, per ESPN. “The relevance is now. That’s when people are talking about it.”

Evan Wasch, the NBA’s senior vice president of strategy and analytics, noted the league is open to discussions regarding a new structure. 

“We certainly have no issue with reconsidering the calendar,” Wasch said. “To Steve’s point, you have to think about the other stakeholders. They need to get more comfortable with the Finals in August, rather than June, where traditionally the household viewership is a lot lower. But the flip side of that argument is there hasn’t been a lot of premium content in that window, which explains why viewership is lower.”

The idea to get out of the NFL’s way in the fall isn’t exactly new. League observers have long debated the merits of adjusting—or condensing—the season. Yet to get to a point where the league can make such moves, there would need to be buy-in by owners, players and broadcast partners. 

Currently, the league’s collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2023-24 season unless both sides agree to opt-out after 2022-23. Any schedule adjustment would likely factor into the next round of negotiations between players and ownership. 

A second hurdle would be the league’s current broadcast rights deals which are set to run through 2025.

Despite that, Koonin has laid out plenty of reasons why his proposal should spark a debate from the NBA. 

“We have built the architecture of our season based on the ad market, not based on the consumer,” Koonin said. “What I’m saying is look at the spring, look at the summer, look at competing with baseball versus competing with the NFL, create more days, create time for practice, create longer training camps. Create time as your friend, rather than this artificial compression of second-quarter ad dollars being the arbiter for setting up our season.” 

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