After months on hiatus, the NBA is back! Professional basketball returns to the U.S. and people's television screens on Thursday night. TNT is hosting the New Orleans Pelicans versus the Utah Jazz, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"We're expecting massive numbers," said Turner Sports' executive vice president and chief revenue officer Jon Diament. "Everyone is super excited from the fans' point of view. The NBA also reaches a very young, multicultural audience that's typically light television viewer, so we might even see a different demographic."
It's also great news for Turner and its parent company Warner Media. Brands have been holding back money from marketing during the pandemic. Many media buyers told Cheddar they were waiting for sports to return before committing advertising budgets, and the return of live programming could mean big bucks.
Precautions had to be put in place for the league to return, however. For one thing, all the players are being housed in a "bubble" and will have all games played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said if many players got infected they would "stop immediately." In that case, Turner Sports would work with its advertising partners to find other opportunities in the WarnerMedia portfolio.
"We're hoping that the NBA is on the forefront of keeping players safe, and the season continues in a very successful way," Diament said. "But anything could happen obviously so we watch that very closely with our partners as we have from the beginning."
No fans will be in attendance, which poses an interesting dilemma without the show of enthusiasm from the stands. The league is testing out different methods, including crowd noises, signs, and other technology to keep interest-level high, Diament explained.
"There's no doubt this is going to be a challenging time," he said. Players will also be able to show their support for social justice, including the Black Lives Matter movement, during this unusual season. Some of them will have special messaging on jerseys, and the words "Black Lives Matter" will be painted on the sidelines of all three courts. Brands will also debut new commercials around racial equality.
TNT itself debuted "The Arena" last week, an hour-long series discussing on and off-court subjects, including the recent protests.
"The NBA has been great when it comes to allowing players to have a voice," Diament said.