Play-In Games Are Here For Good(ish)

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed to keep the play-in games for at least one more year, per ESPN

The mini tournament between the 7-10 seeds in each conference picked up backlash from some of the game’s best players — namely LeBron James, who called for the person that founded the concept to be fired. 

But as the NBA sought ways to recover financial losses due to COVID-19, the play-in games generated a new form of revenue, with increased fan interest and parity around the league. 

“The play-in has been good for everybody,” Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis told FOS and The Association in May. “Good for the players and good for the fans. Good for ownership. Good for the partners, including our media partners, who really wanted more programming that mattered.”

It provided opportunity for teams like the Wizards, who started the season 17-32. According to ESPN’s BPI, they had a 0.6% chance to make the postseason at that point. Russell Westbrook got healthy, and the team finished 18-7, made it through the play-in round, and faced the Sixers in the first round.

“We really had to sprint to make the play-in, and then we finished eighth,” he continued. “You didn’t hear me complaining, ‘Oh, we’re in the eighth spot. I wish we didn’t have to do the play-in.’ I think it’s very encouraging and healthy. I’m hopeful that it becomes a regular, ongoing way to keep the interest of fans.”

Television ratings were up 25% from March to April, during the tournament. ESPN garnered 5.62 million viewers for Lakers-Warriors on May 19, which at the time was the most-watched NBA game on the network since 2019.