Riddles of the N.B.A.

On his CNBC blog, sports-business wizard Darren Rovell calculates how much the first overall N.B.A. draft pick is actually worth, at least in terms of his first year, measured by increased wins and increased attendance. The answer? Quite a bit. Rovell shows that in the past 11 years, the team with the No. 1 pick had an average attendance increase of 11%. Only one team actually lost attendance (and, surely not coincidentally, lost more games too) in the season after getting the No. 1 pick: the 2000 N.J. Nets, who chose Kenyon Martin. I don’t know what the Wages of Wins boys would make of Rovell’s analysis, but it’s well worth a look.

Maybe, since we’re on the subject of the N.B.A., someone can answer this question for me: Why do N.B.A. sportswriters sit courtside? I’m sure they’re happy to sit there — but why is this the common practice? Do they really need to be so close to see the game? To me, it doesn’t seem as if their game coverage benefits from or even reflects this physical proximity. Baseball writers don’t get to sit behind the dugout, though they might prefer it. Football writers, like baseball writers, are in a press box high above the field.

Sure, you could argue that in baseball and football you need to sit up high to see the whole field, but do N.B.A. writers really need to sit so close?

I went to a few Knicks games this year (blech!) and was astonished to see how much prime real estate was occupied by the sportswriters — including at midcourt, several rows deep, to the extent that the coaches and bench players are exiled to the far ends of the court, some of them sitting even beyond the baseline. Isn’t it more important for the players and coaches to have better seats than the sportswriters?

It may be that the N.B.A. equivalent of a press box would be a luxury suite, which pulls in too much revenue to surrender. But still: why are the Knicks (and, I presume, other teams) willing to surrender so much prime-seat ticket revenue instead of putting the writers a little further from the action?

FWIW, I like sportswriters; I used to do a bit of sportswriting; so I’m not angling to get the N.B.A. writers booted from their excellent seats. But if someone can give me a satisfying answer to this riddle, I will happily take you to a Knicks game next year — if, that is, I bother to renew my crummy seats, and if the team manages to get less crummy itself. Which means I probably won’t be taking you to a Knicks game. But I’ll still be appreciative.


TheQuitter

It just seems like one of those things that have been grandfathered in... back when the NBA started, how did the non-attending fans get to know about the hardcourt action? Probably from reporters.

My only question is, why even bother going to the Knicks games unless a great team is in town?

bbredell

There is a (I think) a very good reason for NBA writers to sit up close to the game whereas MLB and NFL writers have no reason to do so. In the NBA,there is a lot more to player interactions and game flow. In the NFL, writers would be way too far away to her any real talk between players and officials, or player to player, and in baseball, it is the same (other than when Jim Leland yells at the umpire). In basketbal player to player chatter is a huge part of the game, and really contributes to the feel and flow of a game. I know that watching Pistons games wouldn't be as much fun without hearing Rasheed Wallace complaining about everything. There is just much more to be taken in by hearing the players trash talk. Kind of like the XFL but actually interesting and entertaining.

mb11

bbredell, sportswriters aren't there to be entertained by trash talk, and they rarely report on it, so it serves no business value for the team to have sportswriters there rather than paying customers who want the entertainment.

rolub

"I know that watching Pistons games wouldn't be as much fun without hearing Rasheed Wallace complaining about everything."

I had the same thought as mb11 after reading this thought. I rarely read any insightful journalism regarding what was discussed on the court between players, coaches, refs, etc. In fact, more often than not this info is picked up from TV/radio broadcasts, who are already close to the action.

If it's more fun to hear what the players have to say, then it does make more sense to sell that prime real estate to paying customers rather than giving it to sportswriters for free.

prosa

At one time reporters routinely occupied the courtside row of seats directly opposite the scorer's table. Teams then caught on that they could sell these ultra-prime seats to affluent fans at extremely high prices.

Ken D.

Hockey is played in similar arenas, often the same ones, and to my knowledge writers and broadcasters are routinely in an upper-level press box. I would say that the basketball practice is rooted in tradition, but continues in part because writers and broadcasters actually can experience the action more directly in a way that would not true be true with similar close-up seats in most other sports.

chancekear

I can give you THE answer, though I sadly will not be able to join you for a Knicks game. A little perspective...I work in sports radio in Houston. I also produce the games for The Houston Texans home and away. Throughout the NBA season I freelance for visiting radio play-by-play and produce their games as well. I go to just about every game there is to go to. I am friends will all of the sports journalists and friends with the Houston teams. The NBA recently, in almost off of its venues, moved the radio and some of the print guys up away from courtside to make room for the pricier seats. You were spot on there. Historically the teams have given the prime real estate out of tradition. Pre-big time TV where every game was televised people could learn about the game from either radio or in the paper. Sure they could've put the writers up in the nose-bleeds but there were two reasons why they didn't. 1. The writers cover more than just the action on the court. They cover the nuances. They cover the individual players. They provide the data that constitutes the 'man-version' of a soap opera. Sports are the male soap operal. It is not and never has been just about the action on the court for die-hard fans. And some of this 'action' takes place on the bench. 2. The writers like it better down there and feel more important down there and it behooved the teams to be accommodating to the people responsible for marketing their product. Almost like bribery. 'I'll give you prime seats if you go easy on my back-up shooting guard's DWI'. It was an understood thing.

I could go on forever.

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furiousball

I think it's so it looks like there are people at the game.

The reason hockey writers are in the press box is to be able to see all of the action, being up on the boards is great when the action is right there. For a reporter, they need to be able to assess the entire game and ice hockey requires a more elevated vantage point.

Cyril Morong

I looked at his analysis. It is a problem trying to credit which player for a team's win total and/or attendance increase to begin with. So that guy who is the #1 pick does not cause the 11% increase all by himself.

But there may be other problems. A team gets the #1 pick because they had a lousy record. If that is partly due to bad luck and they don't have such bad luck the next season, then they will naturally win more games which will increase attencance.

Then if you have a young, inexperienced team, you don't win many games, so you get to be in the lottery. But with or without the #1 pick, your team is likely to improve as your young guys improve and gain experience. So your attendace increases as you win more games.

Then maybe you could have had a lousy record because a key player was hurt. You get the #1 pick, and that guy helps you win more games. But if the injured player comes back, that also helps you win more games, so your attendance goes up. This happened to the Spurs. David Robinson got hrut one year. They got a high pick (maybe it was #1) and they drafted Tim Duncan. So next year they won alot more games, partly because of Duncan and partly because of Robinson coming back.

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Ken D.

This calculation certainly qualifies as quick and dirty. One obvious point overlooked is that teams with the first pick are usually coming off a bad year. Even with a random draft order, I suspect such teams would on the average improve by a few games simply due to regression to the mean.

pauljackson

::cough::farther::cough::

frankenduf

I think there should be less reporters courtside at da Knicks games to make room for Spike Lee's buddies

Dave Hogg

This is my 18th season covering the Detroit Pistons, so I can speak to this a bit.

In 1990, when I started, basketball writers sat at the scorers' table. That's how it had been done for 100 years and no one ever thought it would change. My seat moved around a bit, but I was always in the first row courtside.

That's only changed in the last 2-3 years, and there's been two reasons. The first, obviously, is economics. When the Pistons got really good again, they realized that if they cut down the size of press row, they could sell four seats at the end of each bench and make a killing on them.

The second reason is the explosion of new media. There are so many more people covering NBA games today than there were in 1990 that there was no way they could sit in the front row anyway. And once some people got moved back, it was easier to move everyone back.

These days, the front row is reserved for radio and TV rights holders. A couple print people might be able to sit up there for non-televised games, but basically, we're all in the second row. That's where I was when Ron Artest charged into the crowd 20 feet from me a couple years ago.

Once the postseason starts, most of us are relegated to end-zone seats. If you watch the Pistons-Cavaliers game tonight, I'll be behind the basket to your left.

As for why we sit courtside to begin with, the answer is, again, tradition. It is much easier to be on the floor when it comes to post-game access - we don't have to fight our way through the fans from a press box at the top of the stadium - but during the gane, I'd actually rather be in a hockey/football/baseball-style box above the action. We cover those sports without access to the game noise, and we could do it just as well with basketball.

Most basketball writers believe that by the end of this decade, we'll have to pay for those seats. The news organizations that don't want to pay will end up in a box up top. The Palace even has one, built for hockey.

As for why we sit there in the first place.

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kujo76

As far as teams with the number 1 pick improving, let's not forget the tankathon that went on this year in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes. The team going for number one placement in the draft order has an incentive to play poorly, and because of this, their fan base has an incentive to not show up to the games. Anyone know of any middle of the road teams that wound up with the #1 pick through a trade? Looking at the next year performance of those teams might prove more about this theory.

mcuban

i moved our reporters early and often. As long as they get good food and a good seat, the best seats go to the customer

broham

There's a great degree of variance in terms of the quality of first overall picks in the NBA as well as the fans expectations of them. The last 10 years alone have delivered franchise saviors such as LeBron James (puported face of the NBA) and Tim Duncan (3 time championship and former league MVP) as well complete busts like Kwame Brown and Michael Olowakandi who are not even starters today. The average 11% jump in attendance likely masks a similar variance in the effects individual picks had on individual teams as far as attendance and wins. And even then there are significant other factors that skew both - Michael Jordan for example, joined the Wizards the same season they drafted 1st overall. The resulting increases in attendance (did they lead the league that year?) and wins can hardly be attributed to Kwame Brown. The Spurs franchise player (David Robinson) missed 76 games the year before the team drafted Duncan. The simultaneous addition of two of the top 50 all time players produced the biggest season on season increase in wins in NBA history.

The Nets by the way, likely saw a decrease because first pick Kenyon Martin missed his entire first season with injuries to both knees.

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dk

to create scarcity of seats - which creates demand - nothing brings in top dollar like the illusion of exclusivity. so celebs are generally 'comped' - other than the rarity like spike lee who i think is a die-hard season-ticker holder. And that dynamic then drives hard-working wall-streeters to pay thousands of dollars for those scarce seats, yielding far greater profits than in full seating was available

eeovino

Aside from the win loss record Sportswriters are the predominate driver of ticket sales. During a mediocre season the optimism expressed by these writers continue to drive sales when otherwise fans would have discontinued their trips to the stadium. Using the freebies as incentive to maintain a positive spin create far more parking, hotdog, and beer sales from the humble masses relegated to the cheap seats

TheQuitter

It just seems like one of those things that have been grandfathered in... back when the NBA started, how did the non-attending fans get to know about the hardcourt action? Probably from reporters.

My only question is, why even bother going to the Knicks games unless a great team is in town?

bbredell

There is a (I think) a very good reason for NBA writers to sit up close to the game whereas MLB and NFL writers have no reason to do so. In the NBA,there is a lot more to player interactions and game flow. In the NFL, writers would be way too far away to her any real talk between players and officials, or player to player, and in baseball, it is the same (other than when Jim Leland yells at the umpire). In basketbal player to player chatter is a huge part of the game, and really contributes to the feel and flow of a game. I know that watching Pistons games wouldn't be as much fun without hearing Rasheed Wallace complaining about everything. There is just much more to be taken in by hearing the players trash talk. Kind of like the XFL but actually interesting and entertaining.