The NBA May Have An Earlier Than Expected Start Because Disney ‘Badly Wants’ Christmas Day Games

Reports began circulating at the end of last week that the NBA had pushed up its potential start date for the 2020-21 season from sometime in January or February to, potentially, Dec. 22. It was a pretty surprising bit of news, and in the aftermath, Danny Green of the Los Angeles Lakers predicted that some of the league’s biggest names, like LeBron James, would perhaps make their offseasons a little longer following the mid-October end to last year.

All of this begs the question: Why, exactly, is the league doing this? There are surely multiple reasons, with Marc Stein of the New York Times walking through a handful in his latest newsletter. Among those reasons was an interesting tidbit about Disney, one of the NBA’s television partners, being awfully eager for the league to keep its annual Christmas Day showcase on the schedule.

Disney, which owns ESPN and has been described by Silver as the league’s biggest partner, badly wants to continue that Christmas tradition and have five games to televise on either ABC or ESPN. Turner, the N.B.A.’s other primary broadcast partner, would get its traditional opening night doubleheader on a Tuesday if the union agrees to the Dec. 22 proposal. The league, for its part, has informed the union that it projects a difference of $500 million in revenue if it can start the season in December rather than mid-January.

That number at the end has been mentioned a few times, but given the revenue crunch that hit the league in the last year, it’s hard to justify losing out on half a billion dollars, especially if it means it can still have its showcase day on Dec. 25. To return to Green’s point, it would be fascinating to see how Christmas Day would go down if James and other big-name players sat out to charge their batteries a little more, but regardless, basketball on Dec. 25 is an institution, and Disney appears to have no interest in going forward without it.