Canceled NBA Games Cost Production Industry

The NBA lockout moved from concept to reality today. What was supposed to be a celebration of the beginning of the 2011-12 season is instead the beginning of a lockout that will last at least through Nov. 30. And, while owners and players refuse to come together to share billions, sports-TV production professionals and freelancers, TV-production–facility providers, and countless thousands others at arenas, restaurants, and other services that rely on games as a way to make a living are taking a hit.

NBA Commissioner David Stern canceled the first month of the NBA season last Friday.

Production-truck providers and freelancers face the most uncertainty in terms of future income. The good news is that there will still be programming needs, which could help make up the lost revenues and wages.

Game Creek Video handles some of ESPN’s NBA coverage, Comcast Sports’ coverage of the Boston Celtics in New England, YES Network’s coverage of the New Jersey Nets, and MSG Network’s coverage of the New York Knicks.

“The last time we had a situation like this was with the NHL a few years ago,” says Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “After looking at it and initially thinking it was going to be absolutely devastating, clients ended up finding alternative programming to fill their airtime. Was it as lucrative as doing a full NHL slate? No, and that’s something that we have to expect.”

How much money are the canceled games taking out of the pockets of sports-production professionals? With approximately 450 games canceled through Nov. 30, about $11.5 million will be lost across the board, based on current production-unit rental rates and a crew of 20.

“There are few other industries that are hit as hard [by a lockout] as the mobile-production industry because we have payments on our trucks and those payments don’t stop just because we just lost a bunch of NBA dates,” says Phil Garvin, co-owner/GM, Mobile TV Group. “We still have to make those payments every month. Obviously, businesses like concessions and [venue] operations are also hit hard, but they are not facing a huge payment to the bank each month.”

And, although last-minute dates can help make up lost business, it won’t be much, he says, and the trucks still need to be available for possible future NBA dates. “You’ll be lucky to cover 10% of your missed dates. Until they cancel the whole season, you have to hold those trucks for schedule dates. You can’t tell your NBA clients, ‘Sorry, we booked your truck on something else.’ That is not an option.”

HD-Truck Shortage Helps
Alliance Group GM Craig Farrell says his group’s ability to fill dates with other events is minimizing the pain, because there is still a shortage of HD trucks in the market.

“There is always a pool of shows out there that are late to the table or have last-minute things come up — six weeks or a month ahead of the event — especially in the fall on a Saturday,” he points out. “Normally, it can be next to impossible to find an HD truck for that. So the trucks that were on NBA dates are now taking those events.”

But, once college football and the NFL wind down, that situation may change. NEP Supershooters CEO Mike Fernander says the situation will get severe if the lockout extends to the All-Star break in February.

“Outside of the lost-revenue aspect, I’m not sure how the additional capacity in the market will manipulate the supply-and-demand dynamics,” he adds. “But, if the NFL had lost games, that would have been devastating, as football events are premium events and every single one lost has a huge impact on all providers.”

Corplex President/Partner Scott West agrees that a loss of NFL games would have hit Corplex much harder.  “We could still see a reduction in work,” he adds, “because everyone who would normally be covering the NBA will be looking for other work.”

Remote-service providers are not alone in feeling the pinch. HTN supplies fiber transmission circuits between the NBA and its arenas, and CEO Joe Cohen hopes that the players and owners can get back to playing as many games as possible.

“It certainly has impacted us in 2011,” he says, adding, “We are doing all the responsible things entities do when there is a substantial loss of business. We eliminated per diem and are relying on full-time staff and also scheduling vacations now when there is less work.”

And then there are those on the unscheduled vacations. For the production community, that means the freelance camera operators, graphics operators, and audio mixers who depend on NBA games for a livelihood. Not to mention the thousands of workers who handle everything from ticketing to parking and concessions at arenas, workers who also are paid on an event-by-event basis.

Additional reporting by Ken Kerschbaumer