Mobile Vendors Grateful for Christmas Miracle of NBA Basketball

The NBA appears to have avoided what Commissioner David Stern had openly referred to as “nuclear winter” by finally coming to basic terms on a collective-bargaining agreement last weekend. Barring unforeseen issues when the now-reformed Players Association votes on the new pact next week, mobile-production vendors will be among those with the heaviest stockings when the league opens the 66-game season on Christmas Day.

“What a great Christmas present for all of us,” says NEP Supershooters President Mike Fernander. “We are anxiously waiting for the NBA schedule next week so we can start to book units and see just how a 66-game season looks. I am sure that this is going to present some challenges of its own, but this is a much better problem to face than the one we were looking at a couple of weeks ago.”

Assessing the Damage Already Done
Although the bulk of NEP’s NBA work was scheduled to ramp up later in the season, outfits like Mobile TV Group (MTVG) and Alliance Productions have already been hit hard by the early-season game cancellations. They were able to book replacement dates here and there, but a significant number of the 240 vacant NBA dates in October, November, and December will be chalked up as a loss.

“We were able to get a few replacement bookings but not very many,” says MTVG co-owner/GM Phil Garvin. “But it is so great that they are coming back by Christmas that we can go ahead and overlook those losses. The losses that we’ve had this year [as a result of the canceled games] pale in comparison to the possibility of losing the entire season.”

One corollary effect of the lockout was an increase in the number of college and second-tier events produced in HD. The demand for HD mobile-production units in today’s market still significantly outweighs their availability. As a result, events that had previously been produced in SD and converted to 16:9 aspect ratio for the HD broadcast were produced out of an HD mobile unit.

“Last year at this point, with NBA going on, we were saying no to a lot more clients who wanted HD trucks,” says Alliance Productions GM Craig Farrell. “But we had those HD facilities this year because the NBA wasn’t playing.”

Trucks in a Holding Pattern
Although the mobile-production community is rife with excitement following the compromise between the league and players, it also finds itself in a holding pattern until the official schedule is released on Dec. 6.

“Until we see a finalized schedule, we really don’t know what we’re doing yet,” says Garvin. “You can’t assume anything.”

Many Alliance Productions members now find themselves having to provide facilities for two clients: NBA rightsholders and the secondary events that were booked in the absence of NBA basketball. In addition, it remains to be seen whether the rescheduled NBA dates will seriously conflict with NHL games already on the calendar.

“None of our NBA clients were willing to pay to hold those facilities in the event that the NBA came to an agreement,” says Farrell. “We’ve been in the mode of taking other work for the past couple months, so, once we get the official schedule, we’re going to have to still take care of those secondary clients. We will absolutely do what we need to do to cover both events, but I think there will be a lot of subbing and shuffling.”

At the Right Time
However, the agreement seems to come at the perfect time, just as the college football regular season comes to a close. Had the NBA and the Players Association reached an agreement earlier, most vendors would have been unable to provide HD facilities for Saturday NBA games because nearly all their trucks were already rebooked on college football games.

“It’s good thing is that this didn’t happen during college football season because every single truck was booked every Saturday over the last few months,” says Farrell. “They were taking any work that they could get due to the absence of NBA basketball.”

Condensed Schedule = More Work
Although the official schedule has yet to be released, the NBA has announced that it will use a condensed format that forces teams to play more back-to-back and even back-to-back-to-back games, on consecutive nights. Whereas teams can simply hop a plane to their next game, many non-regional mobile vendors will now have to get creative in the transportation of trucks.

However, companies based on a more regionalized model (Alliance Productions and MTVG, for example) will be less affected by the condensed schedule.

“If anything the [condensed schedule] helps us because it means less traveling of our trucks, since they usually stay pretty much in the same [region] anyway,” says Garvin. “We have trucks all over the place, and we can typically move trucks around, but, when we can’t, we will do a lot of subbing — making us a very good client to our competitors.”

In the end, the condensed scheduling is a blessing for the industry: more games simply mean more work.

“By the end of the season, with a condensed schedule next year, we may have actually fared pretty well,” says Farrell. “From an Alliance standpoint, we had maybe a 20% loss in these two months, but, if there are more events in the next six months, then it very well might wash out in the end.”

A Lift to Industry Spirits
Regardless of any scheduling or truck-transportation issues, mobile vendors are ecstatic to have NBA basketball games back in the budget.

“I am so excited, I can’t even tell you,” says Garvin. “It’s really huge, when you think about what the total negative impact would have been on the mobile industry, had the entire season been cancelled.

“I’m very pleased that we’re going have good news going into the SVG [League Technology] Summit [at the New York Hilton on Dec. 13-14],” he continues. “That is where we all check in to see how [the industry] is doing. We would have been a cloud over the entire conference, but now everyone will be smiling.”