NBA, Disney in Talks to Re-Start Basketball Season in Late July
By Brian Steinberg
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – The National Basketball Association said Saturday that it was “engaged in exploratory conversations” with The Walt Disney Company about a plan to resume its 2019-2020 season, the latest in a parade of efforts by big sports leagues and media companies to get live games in play after the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The two parties are exploring the potential to hold NBA games at Walt Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a vast facility located in the company’s Disney World complex near Orlando, Mike Bass, the league’s chief communications officer, said in a statement. Under the plan, the Disney property would be utilized as “a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing.” The season, which was suspended in March, could potentially resume in late July.
The spokesman said the league was “working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”
Other sports have unveiled plans to return to the field. Fox last weekend broadcast the first Nascar race to take place in weeks, with no fans allowed in the stands. The PGA Tour intends to launch new matches in June. But those activities do not require a large group of players to come in close contact with one another to facilitate game play. Basketball – as well as hockey, football and baseball – does.
Disney is particularly attuned to the vicissitudes of restoring the NBA to the court. ESPN, one of the main pillars of Disney’s business, holds rights to broadcast NBA games, along with AT&T’s WarnerMedia. Disney’s ABC benefits each June by airing the highly-watched NBA Finals. Disney has said the lack of live sports matches represents a significant factor in its ability to generate live viewership and capture advertising dollars.
The ESPN complex sits on 220 acres and includes three different indoor arenas. “The Walt Disney Company has a great, long-standing relationship with the NBA,” the company said in a statement, without elaborating on how Disney facilities might be utilized.
Several big leagues are mulling plans to resume play, or hold as full a season as possible. There is speculation that Major League Baseball will attempt to hold a shorter-than-usual season, and the NFL recently unveiled its intention to start a full 2020-2021 season in September .