Dear NBA: Your Mobile Games Should Be Free

After not giving a single damn about fans during its owner-induced lockout, the NBA is continuing its slap-you-in-the-face ways by charging LeBron-type fees — $169 — for its NBA League Pass service, which lets you watch out-of-market games online or on a mobile device.

For hard-core fans who don’t want to miss that important Oklahoma City-Toronto matchup, maybe it’s a small price to pay. But for the casual fan — or the fan completely put off by not having any NBA to watch while the billionaires split up their revenue pie — having to shell out serious dough to watch the numerous boring regular-season games (especially in this hurry-up season of shame) seems like insult to injury. Why not instead embrace the moment and make mobile access free, maybe at least one game a week?

There’s no subscriber numbers available to judge how popular the League Pass program is, but it’s easy to guess that it pales in comparison to other sports services, like or the NFL’s Sunday Ticket. In those leagues the regular season games mean something, and are for the most part entertaining. The NBA, not so much. I challenge anyone, even Bill Simmons, to recall any first quarter of any regular season NBA game, ever. So why not just make it free, and use it as a way to win back old fans or find new ones?

The number of folks who care enough to shell out $169 has got to be inconsequential to the overall league revenue pie. So why keep dinging fans for the service? Instead make it free for mobile use, and you will endear yourself to the growing young demographic for whom a smartphone may be the only way they access the Internet. Just about every study out there shows that online viewing doesn’t harm regular-TV audience numbers or season ticket purchases, so there’s no real reason to try to recoup millions in production costs when you are raking in billions as a league. Why not try at least one game a week or two a weekend? Or a “Free February” promotion after the Super Bowl, when we’re starved for live sports?

If it’s free then maybe those fans who felt abused by the lockout can justify spending some of their precious hours on earth watching Jimmer Freddete and the Sacramento Kings. But to spend $169 for the right? That doesn’t feel right.

UPDATE: The league updated its League Pass page with official prices (which weren’t available when the post was originally written). The $169 is the one-time fee for TV, broadband and mobile; there is a lower-cost package for $109 where you get to choose 5 teams and it’s broadband only. Still — too much for me.


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