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NBA regular season opens. Back to normal? Not quite.

NBA regular season finally arrives with five games on Christmas Day. But TV and technology are changing league revenues and how America will see the NBA regular season.

By Correspondent / December 24, 2011

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki celebrates his basket against the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter during Game 5 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas in June. NBA regular season opens on Christmas, featuring a rematch between the two teams.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File


The NBA regular season finally begins Christmas Day with a slate of five games: Oklahoma City vs. Orlando, the Golden State Warriors vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics vs. the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, and, in a rematch of last year’s finals, the Miami Heat will meet up with the Dallas Mavericks

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So all is back to normal in professional basketball? Not quite. And it's just not the lockout-shortened season will feature 66 games instead of the usual 80-plus.

TV and TV technology are changing the league's revenue streams. And the NBA will have to catch up, if it wants to capitalize on its potential.

Start with the least obvious: Fans are less inclined to go to an actual game.

Oh, they still show up. Over the past decade, the top attracting team (which changes from year to year) has averaged between 20,000 and 22,000 attendees per game. But except for the top-tier seats, they're less willing to pay for the experience, because it's better watching games at home.

“The gate revenues have been flat and falling since 2006,” says Kenneth Wilbur, a marketing professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. So “teams are altering their mix of ticket prices.... Court seat prices are rising just as fast as they ever have. But in the second or third tier of seats in the arena, you get a better view at home. Those prices have been falling in a lot of NBA cities.”

If teams are seeing smaller gate revenues, their TV profits continue to grow. The NBA has a $485 million annual contract with ABC/ESPN, as well as a $445 million deal with TNT. That works out to about $31 million for each of the league's 30 teams, a deal that wasn’t affected by the games lost during the lockout. Both contracts go through the 2015/16 season.

That's a healthy development, for the most part. The NBA is coming off a strong ratings performance to cap last season. The league finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks netted an average 17.3 million viewers per game. Game 6, in which the Mavericks bested LeBron James and company to win the title, was seen by nearly 24 million people. It was the most watched Game 6 since 2000, and it led to ABC having its best summer week in over a decade.


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