National TV outlets appear to have been waiting for an excuse to ignore the small-market San Antonio Spurs, and they made that known this season. After giving them just five games on ESPN and TNT last season, the NBA completely shut them out of playing on those networks this time around, giving them a total of five national games on NBA TV instead. *Note: January 14th’s loss to the Rockets was moved to TNT one day before tipoff, so they technically had one TNT game.
Let’s face it; the Spurs weren’t much fun to watch pre-bubble last season. On top of that, they missed the postseason. Still, the drastic nature of how quickly they’ve been thrown aside is hard to ignore.
Since 2017, there’s been a noticeable dropoff in nationally televised Spurs games from year to year (*Note: this tweet included NBA TV games, which I’m not factoring for this article).
The San Antonio Spurs are scheduled to play on national television *12* times this season.
See if you notice a trend here…?
Spurs National TV Games
2016 – 32 2017 – 32 2018 – 25 2019 – 12
— Robert Price (@RobertPriceTV) August 12, 2019
Does the NBA have some kind of agenda against San Antonio? Of course not. But the NBA is a business, and its goal is to maximize profits by hyping up its most marketable superstars, even if their team isn’t exactly a delight to watch.
Are the right teams being showcased in the first half of the season? Let’s have a look.
Next: Some Questionable TV Decisions
A Look at the national TV schedule
To break it down, let’s first examine the teams featured and how many games they had in the first half of TNT and ESPN’s schedules. Teams with a .500 or worse record as of Monday afternoon are highlighted.
Los Angeles Lakers – 15 New Orleans Pelicans – 13 Golden State Warriors – 13 LA Clippers – 12 Boston Celtics – 11 Brooklyn Nets – 10 Milwaukee Bucks – 10 Phoenix Suns – 10 Dallas Mavericks – 10 Miami Heat – 8 Denver Nuggets – 7 Portland Trail Blazers – 7 Philadelphia 76ers – 4 Memphis Grizzlies – 3 Utah Jazz – 2 Houston Rockets – 3 Toronto Raptors – 2 Sacramento Kings – 2 Charlotte Hornets – 1 New York Knicks – 1 Minnesota Timberwolves – 1 Indiana Pacers – 3 Atlanta Hawks – 1 Chicago Bulls – 1
At first glance, it’s easy to see the league favors its west coast markets, as three of the top four are California teams. Another thing to note is how the Knicks only had one scheduled national TV game in the first half despite being one of the largest NBA markets. This tells me the NBA actually factors in watchability and not just pure market statistics.
The only teams not initially scheduled for a game on either network were the Spurs, Magic, Wizards, Cavaliers, Pistons, and Thunder. Some interesting things are happening with this list. First off, the team (other than San Antonio) with the best current record out of the unscheduled crew is the Orlando Magic with a lowly 13-18.
Meanwhile, the Spurs remain with the eighth-best record in the league (16-11) despite not having played a game since Valentine’s Day. It’s clear the NBA made a misstep if their goal was to have more winning basketball on our TV screens. The question is, will it matter in the second half?
Next: Will the Spurs get more national TV run?
Can we expect more San Antonio Spurs games on national TV after the All-Star break?
Given that the Spurs were scheduled for a total of one game on TNT at the last minute this season, it’s safe to say the answer is yes. While the league values big markets and individual superstardom, it also cares about the quality of basketball it broadcasts. Without a doubt, San Antonio is playing quality basketball through 27 games.
I would expect a combination of competition level and market profits to spearhead the league’s national TV scheduling from March onward. What this means is we’ll still get plenty of Zion Williamson’s 13-17 Pelicans — just maybe not as much. The same might apply to Luka Doncic’s Mavericks and Jimmy Butler’s Heat.
There are plenty of teams the NBA can minimize to make room for the Spurs, who are playing the most entertaining brand of basketball they’ve played since the Big Three days.
While the scheduling was split into halves due to extenuating circumstances, it would be nice if the league always had the ability to adjust their programming mid-season when they make such miscalculations.
The second half of the schedule is expected any day now, as ESPN reported on Friday. The NBA would be wise to give the Spurs more exposure than they’re getting — maybe just avoid airing the second night of back-to-backs.
Update: The second half of the schedule has been released, and welp, looks like I overestimated the NBA. The Spurs will not have any games on ABC, ESPN, or TNT in the second half.