Summer isn’t always the most thrilling time in the world of sports. The NFL is out of season, and the NBA Finals end in the middle of June. While the MLB is in full swing, it is the 3rd most popular sport in America by a decisive margin. On years that don’t feature a major international soccer tournament, things can get REALLY slow in the world of sports. While the NFL has training camps and practices going on throughout the Summer, the league doesn’t offer any games of interest for fans to watch. However, the NBA starts back up rather quickly on a smaller scale with the NBA Summer League. The problem is that many casual sports fans have no idea that Summer League is even taking place every year. In this piece THUUZ examines how to make more fans aware of Summer League’s happenings, and how to make play and the event(s) more exciting.
First, one must answer why we should bother trying to make NBA Summer League more exciting, and there are a few reasons. As mentioned, there is a lull in sports excitement across the board typically around this time of year. Which means there are sports fans of all types desperate for action that isn’t skeet-shooting or fishing. Another reason is that the NBA Playoffs and NBA Draft are still very fresh on people’s minds come July. For the 29 teams that didn’t win it all, and even the team that did, the NBA Draft is a moment of hope and promise that maybe wasn’t experienced much during the previous season. And once the NBA Draft is over, the ridiculous predictions and expectations begin. Summer League is a perfect opportunity for fans to either grab onto these expectations for dear life, or release them with a “here we go again” type of sigh.
Next, we must identify what aspects of the current Summer League format hold it back from being as exciting as it could be. One of the main issues with creating and maintaining buzz around the Summer League is that it doesn’t receive the coverage that other events and seasons do. While some games are shown on NBA TV and every game can be watched via a special NBA package (Summer League Live), the limited and exclusive nature of Summer League coverage holds it back from being a premier event. Also, adding to the difficulty of covering and publicizing the Summer League is the fact that there are 3 different leagues in 3 different locations. In 2015, the 1st Summer League was in Orlando from July 4th-10th, the 2nd in Utah from July 6th-9th, and the 3rd in Las Vegas from July 10th-20th. These leagues vary in terms of quality of facilities, locations, weather, and time. Another aspect of Summer League that can be frustrating for fans is that they only get to watch young players and players trying to crack the NBA. The NBA’s elite are typically at home during the month of July, and can often be found court side snapping pictures with each other.
Finally, the key to curing Summer League of these boring aspects is to find workable solutions that can be implemented without the NBA having to move mountains. In terms of TV coverage, it would behoove the NBA to use its relationship with ESPN to mainstream Summer League action. While it is understandable what the league is trying to do by having exclusive coverage rights, the world of NBA fans would greatly benefit from being able to watch the league’s best young talent on a basic cable network. The NBA will also have to come up with a way to unify the three current forms of the league if it wants to have the best chance of turning Summer League into a national hoops fixture. While the ideas behind the Orlando and Utah Summer Leagues are good ones, the Las Vegas Summer League is the only form of the event with the potential to generate the type of buzz the NBA would be looking for. NBA players and celebrities have been known to hang out in Vegas in the offseason as well, which wouldn’t hurt the potential for press opportunities around the event. Finally, instead of watching LeBron and Kevin Durant make shots at halftime of Summer League games, they should get involved in the games themselves. As much as the 2011 NBA Lockout disappointed fans, there was a certain romance found in watching NBA stars display their skills in small and intimate gyms.
NBA Summer League seems like the type of event that would greatly benefit from more exposure and publicity. As discussed, basketball fans are typically thirsty for action come Summer time, and there aren’t many legitimate outlets for them to get their fix. With the lull that occurs during the Summer in the sports world it would be smart of the NBA to do their best to consolidate the event(s), and turn it into a staple of the sports calendar. Once this is the case, the NBA might even see some other, more unexpected benefits. For instance, the NBA D-League would probably receive a boost in fans, especially early in the season, because folks would want to follow some of the players they enjoyed watching in Summer League. And seeing as the majority of players in NBA Summer League don’t end up in the NBA, bringing more attention to all of these athletes can only grow the brand of the sport worldwide. Hopefully the NBA adopts some of these ideas in the near future, and Summer League can grow into to the potential it has.