Since the NBA season ground to a halt due to the threat of the coronavirus, there has been a lot of talk about how much money teams like the Los Angeles Lakers stand to lose. Much of that discussion has focused on not just ticket revenue, but on teams’ local TV deals, and how many games organizations would have to play in order to cash in on those deals fully.
Most of the reporting has focused on somewhere around 70 games as the number teams need to hit in order to cash in on those deals, and in that sense, the latest report from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer is no different. What is new in O’Connor’s most recent story, however, is that the Lakers’ deal with Spectrum SportsNet is a little bit different than most other teams’:
If regular-season games can be played, however, they will be. The NBA has contracts with regional sports networks (RSNs) for regular-season games. Once most teams hit 70 games, the league retains 100 percent of the revenue from those RSNs—except for a handful of teams such as the Lakers, who have a per-game contract with Spectrum SportsNet, according to a league source.
O’Connor offered a bit more clarity about what exactly that means for other teams on Twitter:
For teams with RSN contracts for 70 games: If they end up falling short, the RSN gets a rebate. If only 65 of 70 games are played, the RSN gets a rebate back for the missing five games. It doesn't go to 0%.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 8, 2020
The Lakers, however, are apparently not bound by that stipulation, which in theory — in conjunction with their Western Conference-best record and veteran-heavy team — might make them less likely to push for any more regular season games than necessary if they don’t feel like they need the cash from those games. For context, they have played 63 games so far, and other teams are right around the same, so around seven games (give or take) would be necessary for those other teams to get 100% of the money from their TV deals. The Lakers don’t have that type of specific goalpost to hit.
On the flip side, while you might not think the Lakers — the second-most valuable team in the NBA, worth an estimated $4.4 billion according to Forbes — are hard up for cash from those regular season games, it’s also worth noting that the Buss family are not exactly swimming in riches compared to other NBA ownership groups. Unlike many of the new class of NBA team governors, the Buss family’s primary source of income is the Lakers — they’re not just an expensive toy.
If the Lakers being the only NBA team to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan (they later returned it) is any indication, they may be motivated to get as many of those regular season TV game checks as possible. Even if they technically won’t have to give money back to Spectrum if they don’t play, it sounds like they could potentially use the money they’d get from each game they did put on.
The Lakers are expected to return to their practice facility as soon as next week for informal, individual workouts as the NBA slowly moves to open back up. Whether they play regular season games or not after that, or how many, remains to be seen, but in the wake of this report, at least we know a little bit more about what their possible motivation to do so might be.