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Release of the 2013-2014 NBA Schedule: Opening Night, Christmas Day, and the Impact of National TV

The release of the 2013-2014 NBA schedule was set to occur on July 26, 2013. Alas, that day came and went because the NBA wanted to take all the new free agent signings and trades into account before determining which match-ups will garner the highest national TV ratings next season. Now, NBA TV listings show that a "schedule release special" is listed for August 6, 2013. Typically, fans look forward to the release of the NBA master schedule not only because it allows them to start planning which games they want to buy tickets for, but also because they get to see how many times their squad will get to be viewed under the bright lights of national television. Will their team get one of the highly coveted Christmas Day games this year? What about Opening Night?

Even though the schedule in its finalized form has not been released, some reporters have already begun to leak which teams have been granted the privilege of playing on some of the NBA's most premier game days. According to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinal, the Heat is set to open the 2013-2014 NBA season in primetime against the Chicago Bulls. Some Pacers fans may be asking themselves, “The Chicago Bulls?” Yes, the Chicago Bulls. Likely due to the long awaited return of Derrick Rose to the hardwood, the Bulls and Heat will be facing off against each other at American Airlines Arena to kick off next season on October 29, 2013. Additionally, Winderman leaked the news that the Heat will once again be granted the privilege of playing on Christmas Day. This comes as no surprise to most fans given that in recent years the marquee match-up on Christmas Day typically involves a rematch of the prior year’s NBA Finals (i.e. Heat-Mavs on Christmas Day 2011, OKC-Heat on Christmas Day 2012). As such, it should be expected that the Heat will be playing the Spurs on Christmas. Not so fast, according to Winderman, there will be no Finals rematch this year on Christmas Day. Rather, the Heat is penciled in to be facing off against the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, the finalized schedule in its entirety has not been released yet. However, Winderman reports that it is almost unheard of for games on Opening Night or Christmas Day to be changed between the master schedule’s initial draft and final rendering.

With only these two games leaked thus far, Pacers fans have to be asking themselves, “What about Indiana?” Wasn’t it the Pacers who pushed the Miami Heat to a Game 7 of the ECF? Wasn’t it the Pacers who won the Central Division in 2013? Haven’t the Pacers earned the privilege to play on Opening Night, Christmas Day, or, at the very least, on national television? Sure, these match-ups are decided by ratings, but how are the Pacers going to be a team that will garner high ratings if they are never seen by the national audience? Some fans may be saying as they read this, “Who cares?”, “Let Derrick Rose and the Bulls have it, the national audience can see us in June!”, or they might be thinking that the lack of national television time and disrespect serves as added motivation for a prideful, determined, and driven Pacers squad. You could be right. But statistics show that in many ways national television games do matter.

Certainly most dedicated Pacers fans will recall last season’s national television line-up. In July of 2012, it was released that the Pacers would play a total of 7 games on national television (Jan. 4 @ Boston, Jan. 10 vs. New York, Jan. 21 vs. Memphis, Feb. 1 vs. Miami, Mar. 3 vs. Chicago, Apr. 5 vs. OKC, and Apr. 16 @ Boston). It should be noted, that two of the aforementioned games were removed from the TV schedule. The game on April 5th against the Thunder was preemptively dropped in case the Heat’s winning streak continued, and the match-up against the Celtics on April 16th was cancelled due to the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. Therefore, in total, the Pacers played 5 games on ESPN, TNT, or ABC last season. According to NBA rules, no team can play more than 25 games on national television (ESPN, TNT, or ABC) in a season. Games shown on NBA TV do not count toward the maximum of 25 games. It is notable that the Pacers were slated to play 5 games on NBA TV. Right about now you may be asking, “So what?” or “Who cares, I prefer to watch Chris and Quinn on Fox Sports Indiana, anyway!”

Well, perhaps fans should remember Roy Hibbert’s frustrated and expletive filled response to a reporter when asked about not finishing higher in the DPOY voting, “You [media members] never watch us play!” According to Roy, the Pacers not being seen on national television played a big role in him not receiving more votes for the prestigious award. Is Roy on to something, here? According to a research study conducted by Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Weiss presented at the MIT SLOAN analytics conference, Roy is statistically the best interior defender in the NBA. The data from the study shows that over the course of the last two seasons, Roy has allowed the lowest percentage of made shots that he faces within five feet of the basket. Even so, the results of the defensive player of the year voting were as follows: 1) Marc Gasol, 2) LeBron James, 3) Serge Ibaka 4) Joakim Noah, 5) Tony Allen, 6) Tim Duncan, 7) Larry Sanders, 8) Paul George, 9) Andre Iguodala, and 10) Roy Hibbert. Now let’s correlate those results to the number of games many of these players appeared on national television. The Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol and Tony Allen) appeared on national television 8 times and on NBA TV 7 times. The Heat (LeBron James) and Thunder (Serge Ibaka) could each be viewed on ESPN, TNT, or ABC the league maximum of 25 games. The Chicago Bulls (Joakim Noah) could be seen on national television on 19 occasions. The San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan) were on the three major networks 16 times. The Denver Nuggets (Andre Iguodala) played 13 games on ESPN, TNT, or ABC. In fact, the only player who finished higher in the DPOY voting while playing fewer games on national television than the Indiana Pacers was Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks. Most likely, Sanders managed to finish 7th in the voting because of his gaudy block statistics that could be easily viewed on nba.com. With the knowledge of Roy’s impressive defensive statistics presented at MIT in mind, was he wrong when he said that the reason he did not receive more votes for DPOY was because the national audience and media members (who cast ballots for the award) rarely watched him play?

It could also be argued that the lack of national television games impacted the number of votes earned by Paul George for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game. The official results for the NBA All-Star Game Starters, voted on by the fans, show that George finished with just 80,060 votes. The top vote getters for the backcourt in the East were Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo followed by Deron Williams and Kyrie Irving. Most would probably not put up that much of an argument that these four finished with more votes than George at the backcourt position. However, take a look at some of the other players that received more fan votes than the budding superstar: Ray Allen (326,186 votes), Raymond Felton (105,340 votes), and Jason Terry (88,708 votes). Although not in the backcourt category, Shane Battier (151,877 votes) and Amare Stoudemire (147,720 votes) even received more total votes than Paul George. The vote difference can likely be attributed to the fact that all of the above players were employed by teams that were seen on television 14-20 more times than the Pacers (Heat 25 TV games, Knicks 25 TV games, and Celtics 19 TV Games). How many people in the national audience would now say, after seeing George on the Big Stage in the playoffs, that Stoudemire, Battier, Terry, Felton, and Allen deserved more votes than the young Pacers star? Sure, the all-star game is a popularity contest, but George had no chance of winning said popularity contest if he was never seen by the populace. Rightfully so, George earned a reserve spot on the 2013 all-star team by coaches vote.

The lack of national television time undoubtedly put a massive chip on the Pacers shoulder headed into the playoffs – they had something to prove to the national audience, naysayers, media members, doubters, and people who did not even know their names. They most certainly succeeded at introducing the national audience to the Blue Collar, Gold Swagger that Indiana fans witnessed all season long when they pushed the Miami Heat to game 7 of the ECF. Nevertheless, the lack of national television time matters. As exhibited, it affected the DPOY voting. It affected the all-star voting. It affected the lack of hype surrounding the team on national networks. It affects free agents wanting to sign with a team where they can be seen. It may have even affected attendance at the arena. Like it or not Pacer Nation, there are many fans who only want to cheer on a winner. If ESPN and TNT are talking about Naptown’s potential to take down the defending champs in the playoffs next year, more “fans” are going to want to be part of the road to the Finals. If attendance and revenues go up, perhaps the need to watch the luxury tax line will no longer be a priority. When your team boasts multiple all-stars, the DPOY, a budding superstar, the league’s best defense, a deep bench, and a legitimate chance to beat the Heat, viewers will want to tune in, and the NBA will want to put said team on ESPN, TNT, and ABC (maybe even on Opening Night or Christmas Day).

Fear not Pacers fans, the national media is starting to take notice. This week when news of the Luis Scola trade broke, numerous notable journalists took to their websites, blogs, and twitter to express the fact that the Pacers are going to be a force with which to be reckoned. For instance, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst commented on the Pacers “effective offseason.” Alex Kennedy from Hoopsworld commented on the new found depth of the Pacers bench as he remarked, “such a good team.” Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops tweeted that, “Indiana is going to be a beast.” Scott Howard-Cooper, writer on nba.com, wrote that the Pacers make “smart move after smart move.” The Pacers already top the Central division in many preseason rankings and they are right on the heels of the Heat in Eastern Conference projections. The finalized draft of the 2013-2014 regular season schedule is set to be released sometime this week. With the added hype and shrewd offseason moves executed by Larry Bird this summer, perhaps, the Pacers will end up with one of the few coveted Christmas Day marquee match-ups? One thing is for sure, hopefully the Pacers have proven as a team that they deserve to be on national television this season more than a mere 5 times because, as we have learned, being seen under the bright lights matters.

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