Tonight, January 10, at 7:30 PST/10:30 EST the Los Angeles Lakers will “travel” to visit their Staples Center mates, the Los Angeles Clippers. It is the 2nd game of the weekly Friday night NBA on ESPN double-header. It will also be the first Lakers game this fan will have seen in more than a month.
I have been an annual subscriber to NBA League Pass since it’s incarnation at the start of the 1999-2000 season. This season, for various reasons, I felt it best to cancel the subscription (not for lack of love for NBA or Lakers, I assure you). I figured that even without NBALP, I would still be able to watch a good amount of Lakers games, as even though they were not a contending team this season, they still had marketable players such as Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, and the national networks such as TNT, ABC and ESPN had their games already in their schedules for the season. Heck, Bryant’s first game back from his Achilles’ injury was immediately picked up by NBA TV to provide national coverage. Then Bryant, after 6 games back (with steady improvement), was diagnosed with a knee injury on December 17, and was declared out for 6 weeks. With Nash already out indefinitely, and Gasol struggling, the Lakers were no longer a marketable team to networks.
With nearly every marketable star on the Lakers either out or diminished, the networks have “suddenly” dropped the Lakers from their national coverage schedules (again, tonight’s game vs. the Clippers will be the first nationally televised game in a month). No star quality, no national coverage. A business needs a product to sell, and without marketable, HEALTHY stars, the Lakers have very will product at the moment. I have also noticed during this time that the Lakers have ended their streak of consecutive home sell-outs, and as a result, ticket prices have dropped to their lowest in years.
Kobe Bryant just recently signed a heavily discussed/debated 2 year $48 million contract extension, ensuring he will indeed retire a Laker. Now many people will argue that at his age, and coming back from injury, the Lakers are over-paying Kobe and that he won’t be able to lead a team back into contention. However, ask the average NBA fan if they’ve paid any attention to the Lakers this year. Odds are they will say no. Why? “Because Kobe isn’t playing”. There’s your $48 million contract right there. Contending or not, Kobe Bryant is still a major draw that people will pay to see, and the Lakers know it.
The Lakers have (expectedly) struggled mightily record-wise during this time of injuries, and as a result, have many fans looking ahead to June’s NBA draft, where the Lakers may be active for the first time in years. They are also not selling out road games this season, and that is also likely due to injuries (again, NO healthy star players). I live in Rhode Island (about an hour south of Boston for the geographically challenged), and I try to buy Celtics tickets every year for the only time the Lakers visit. That game this year is next Friday, January 17th. I’ll be honest, when I realized what the team would (probably) look like next week, I lost about half my interest in going to the game. But, they are still the Lakers, and the only time of the year I get to see them in person. Unfortunately, in the business world, that means very little to the casual fan, corporate sponsors, and national networks.