Fansure Announces the Addition of Marcellus Wiley, Former NFL All-Pro, to Advisory Board

Mandatory Credit: Photo by MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock (9807043cm) Marcellus Wiley 6th Annual PingPong4Purpose, Los Angeles, USA – 23 Aug 2018

January 31, 2020

Former NFL defensive end and current Fox Sports TV personality Marcellus Wiley will join the Fansure team in a formal advisory capacity.

Fansure Inc., a sports technology company that provides financial protection and analytical insights for affected stakeholders when star players unexpectedly miss games, has announced the addition of Marcellus Wiley to its team.  Wiley, a former NFL player of 10 years, joined the team in January 2020.

“We are very excited and gracious to have Marcellus on board” said Fansure’s Founder and CEO Vijay Shravah. “It is critical at this juncture to add more credible and influential pieces to our team, and we are confident Marcellus and his team will give us a tremendous boost.”

“We are very excited to be a part of Fansure’s journey,” said Marcellus. “Their commitment to innovating a viable solution for both fans and businesses who are affected when star players miss games resonated with us.”

Daniel Titus, Fansure’s Strategic Partnerships and Marketing Director, will work directly with Marcellus and his team in executing Fansure’s strategic endeavors.

About Fansure

Fansure is a sports analytics company focused on predicting player availability for specific games played. Led by NASA rocket scientists, Fansure developed machine learning technology to predict the likelihood of star player absences, and provides analytical insights and financial protection services for such instances. To learn more, visit: https://fansure.com

About Marcellus Wiley

Marcellus Vernon Wiley Sr. is a retired American football defensive end who played 10 seasons in the National Football League for four teams. He was selected with the 22nd pick of the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft out of Columbia University by the Buffalo Bills. After four seasons with the Bills, he played for the San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars. He was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2001, as a member of the San Diego Chargers. He formerly co-hosted SportsNation on ESPN, as well as an afternoon drive-time sports talk radio show on ESPN 710AM in Los Angeles, and is currently a host of Fox Sports 1’s Speak For Yourself.

Remembering Kobe

“If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. You have to obsess over it.” 

-Kobe Bryant

This has been a really tough time for me and so many others. Before I share some words, I just want to say that I am heartbroken for Vanessa and Kobe’s three daughters & Gigi’s three sisters: Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. I cannot comprehend the pain, sadness, and grief they and the rest of the Bryant family are feeling, but I and so many others are thinking about them in such an awful time. I also want to remember the other victims and their families — the Altobelli’s, Chesters, Mausers, and Zobayans. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, your race or gender—tragedy can affect anyone and the pain you feel isn’t any easier to take.

Kobe was my idol. Plain and simple. To be honest, no one even came close. My room has always been decorated with Kobe memorabilia. I think the number of hours I’ve spent watching Kobe highlights exceeds the weeks (plural) threshold. And those that know me know that’s not an exaggeration. I have the 8, 24, and 33 jerseys. In my room right now I can count 4 pictures attributed to Kobe. Above my door hangs the “heroes come and go, but legends are forever” saying that defined Kobe. My phone background is from his 81-point game. The rookie card one of my best friends in high school (Alex) gave me sits in the nightstand next to my bed. The “Mamba Mentality” book Kobe recently published that I received for Christmas last year and read in its entirety the night I got it is in my bookshelf.

I think this is the first time I’ve felt a real personal loss due to the death of a non-family member. As everyone’s been describing on social media, it feels surreal. Like it has physically affected them, which I can empathize with. Everyone has a different reason for feeling this way, and mine is crystal clear, because it’s the way I’ve felt about Kobe every day I’ve lived my life since I can remember as a small boy. I imagine people who are religious may feel this way, or others that have idols that are so ingrained in who they are as well. But imagine looking at a person, or a being, and trying to embody them in every facet of the way you live your life. This has nothing to do with basketball—my basketball career ended when I didn’t make the high school freshman team. I feel a personal drive, like a pilot light that never goes out in my inner being that drives me to be the best I can be in every way possible. In my experience, not everybody has that true inner drive that inspires them. Because I don’t think it’s something that can be created internally by the individual person – it comes from your experience with the world and how you are affected and impacted by it.

I can undoubtedly attribute a large portion of my work ethic to what Kobe stood for – success by outworking everyone else. I wasn’t ever the smartest person in the room, nor the biggest or tallest or most talented. But I always sought to be the hardest worker. In my early days of childhood, this manifested itself through actual time spent working. As I’ve grown up, and thought more carefully about what Kobe’s likeness and mantra meant to me in terms of working hard, it has now become a narrative of working efficiently, effectively, precisely, and carefully. It’s about controlling and mastering all of the necessary elements that go into working hard and delivering the best product you can – developing the right relationships, building teams to boost your shortcomings, asking questions to those that know more about something than you with genuine curiosity and a desire to learn. If you’re going to work, work, don’t half-ass it or be in two places at once. If you’re not in a mental or physical place to work, then use that time regenerate efficiently, to “work” in other ways. Go to the gym, spend time with friends, even just zone out. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where it feels like instead of planning the hours or even minutes that go by as to how to live to the fullest, its at the level of seconds. Truly having an understanding of how you want to live your life, and doing it this way is what I’ve learned from Kobe.

It’s also a day like today when I remember all of the explicit and implicit “shade” I would get for voicing how important Kobe was to me as a person and role model. I would shamelessly put Kobe as my role model on applications, essays for school, even my National Science Foundation personal statement for a grant I applied for at the beginning of graduate school. It wasn’t always the “safe” choice, but it was a genuine one. Kobe wasn’t a perfect human being, or the prototypical role model like Barack Obama or Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa. He was an athlete – that came across as superficial. He was accused of sexual assault, and was labeled as someone that didn’t have respect for women. He called a referee a gay slur. But guess what – we’re all people, and we all make mistakes. It’s about how we represent ourselves in light of those mistakes, how we aim and strive to be better. What better model for being a human than someone who has messed up, lived with the consequences, and then stared at them head on to become a better person? Kobe exemplified this in the best way possible. I’m not here to defend him – he’s done that with his actions and the way he’s embraced inspiring others. Go and do the research yourself if you don’t believe me.

I hope that everyone that wasn’t affected by Kobe as much as I was takes a moment to reflect on the outpouring of support and emotion felt by so many across the world. If you’re at all apart of the sports community, you have certainly witnessed it. But I encourage those in the community at large to think about what a role model means. Who kids idolize and why. Who adults look up to (yes, adults need role models too). And why it matters so much that we understand the importance of a role model, and hope for everyone to be able to experience that type of connection with someone or something.

I know I’m still in a state of shock, and probably will be for some time to come. It’s crazy in that talking to others about it, it seems like many underestimated how much he impacted them, surprised at how hard this news was to take, which is something I haven’t witnessed with those close to me before. I’ve been glued to television and social media because each reflection and story has helped me understand Kobe the person that much more, like putting together an infinitely complex puzzle I started as a kid. I will always honor Kobe, because he is now apart of who I am and who I will become. He taught me to dream big, and to strive towards my goals without hesitation or doubt. To do it carefully and methodically, working hard at it and trusting the process along the way. I will miss knowing he’s out there somewhere, working hard, inspiring others to be the best they can be. I will miss seeing his full transition to full-time father/husband/caregiver/basketball coach/writer he began after he retired from professional basketball. It still felt like I had more to learn from him, and that his relationship as my role model had more to give. His image, likeness, heart and drive will live on with the so many he affected. Rest in peace, Kobe. I’ll miss you, and thank you for what you’ve done and will continue to do for my life.

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2020 NBA All-Star Roster Predictions

Monday January 20th at 11:59p EST is the deadline for fans, players, and the media to put in their votes for their All-Star starters.  In the spirit of this, we are making our predictions for the pool of starters and reserves for the 2020 NBA All-Star game in Chicago this February.

These selections assume that the latest release of All-Star votes from fans are relatively set, and also factor in the biases from players and coaches that inevitably go into their choices.  Where possible, though, our Player Index is a great indicator of who we can expect to don an All-Star uniform in February.  Or at least, it should be; what other metric better captures the desired balance between popularity and on-court performance?!

Now before we get into our selections, it’s worth pointing out some of the quirks and constraints that went into this.  Despite the NBA making sweeping changes to the All-Star selection process – such as having the leading vote-getter from each conference (most likely to be LeBron and Giannis – the same captains for the 2019 game) serve as the team captains and “draft” their reserve teams – the selection process itself has a few issues that will impact the way voting will unfold:

Jimmy Butler Miami
Miami’s Jimmy Butler may lose a starting All-Star roster spot due to his position label (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  1. Despite efforts to make positions more flexible, the ambiguity between the “frontcourt” and “backcourt” labels makes it difficult to assign a position to some of the versatile wing players who waver between the two.  Jimmy Butler, for instance, could be snubbed out of a starting spot because he was labeled as a frontcourt player. Now, he should be a starting guard since Miami has the second best record in the East under his leadership and he has very consistently played the two-guard position with the Heat all year.  With Kemba Walker likely to garner votes from the media and players to earn a starting backcourt position, he is likely going to be paired with either Atlanta’s Trae Young, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving or Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons rather than the deserving Jimmy Buckets.
  2. Injuries: Make no mistake: the NBA has been devastated by long-term injuries to some of its greatest superstars.  The game won’t be the same without its usual perennial stars such as the former Warriors superstar trio of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson or other soon-to-be perennial stars such as Victor Oladipo.  There are also a handful of great players who missed too many games to be considered viable candidates – such as Kyrie Irving, Karl-Anthony Towns and Blake Griffin. To make it simple, we’ve eliminated anyone who’s missed more than 20 games.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers
Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson are three of many megastars missing this year’s All-Star game. (Photo Credit: SLAM Online)

Let’s get into our picks:

Eastern Conference

Starters:

Backcourt: Kemba Walker + Ben Simmons

Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Joel Embiid

Backcourt Starters Analysis: Although fan votes currently have Kyrie Irving and Trae Young in the starting spots, we are predicting these will be offset by the media and players’ votes.  In addition to his shoulder injury causing him to miss 26 of 41 games, Kyrie’s questionable leadership over the last few years and recent comments may have people scratching their heads.  Young, on the other hand, has skyrocketed in popularity (ranked 15th overall on our Fansure Index) and has made tremendous strides in his game. However, he may be penalized by his team’s performance as the Hawks are vying for the league’s worst record at 10-34 (the Knicks are 1 game ahead, for context).  Also, the media and players tend to be biased toward players who have more years under their belt.

kemba
Despite falling below the top two guard spots in the fan vote, Kemba should get the starting nod (Photo Credit: Boston Globe)

Kemba Walker has the led the Celtics to very respectable 27-14 record in the East, and seems to be highly respected by the media as evidenced by his All-NBA selection last year (over Klay Thompson, who wasn’t too happy about it and was given a slightly less lucrative contract extension as a result).  Ben Simmons, despite the heavy scrutiny at his apparent unwillingness to shoot outside jumpers and his team’s underachieving so far, has done just  enough to establish the 76ers as contenders in the East – particularly with Joel Embiid missing 13 of 44 games. You can also bet that LeBron, one of the likely captains, will want to pick his buddy Simmons (who he traded for in last year’s draft) when he makes his selections on Thursday, February 6th.

Again, one can’t help but notice that Jimmy Butler should be starting at one of these positions with Miami exceeding everyone’s expectations holding the #2 spot in the East.  Maybe they’ll correct his position label next year.

Frontcourt Starters Analysis: No explanation necessary for Giannis, who is making a strong case to defend his title as the NBA’s regular season MVP. Siakam and Embiid, who are Top 10 overall in All-Star voting, are likely to get the nod from media and players as well.

East Reserves:

Guards: Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry

Forwards/Center: Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic

Wildcards: Domantas Sabonis, Trae Young

East Reserves Analysis: Coaches, who still have exclusive voting rights to the reserves, generally have two criteria for selecting reserves: 1) your team is winning and 2) you’ve “paid your dues” (i.e. been snubbed in the past enough times).  In the East, however, there are slim pickings – making it a bit easier for coaches to go just off the best teams and make sure they are represented by at least one player.

With Butler as an obvious choice, and only 5 teams seen as serious East title contenders, we are predicting that coaches will select a 2nd player to go with each contender.  That gives us Lowry (Toronto) to pair with starting Siakam, Middleton to pair with Giannis, and Tatum with Kemba.  Some strongly suspect that Bam Adebayo will be seen as a strong candidate to pair with Jimmy Butler, and his numbers back it up (16/10/5), but we’re not entirely sure he will be picked ahead of the other front court prospects.  Tobias Harris is a great choice as well, but assuming fellow Sixers Simmons and Embiid are selected, we are predicting that coaches won’t reward Philly’s so-so season with 3 All-Stars.

That leaves us Indiana, who needs someone to represent them as they have quietly overachieved without Oladipo – who is hopeful to make his return on Jan 29th from a gruesome knee injury suffered last season.  We have Domantas Sabonis on the roster, but we can see Malcolm Brogdon getting the nod as well. Orlando is also comfortably in the Top 8, thanks to their consistent big man Nikola Vucevic – who will likely get selected for a second straight season.

So who gets the final spot?  Brogdon, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine are all possible candidates.  Our educated guess goes to Trae Young, who is putting up stellar numbers despite his team’s poor record.  Young is also already 15th on our Player Index and is well ahead of everyone else under consideration.

Now on to the more difficult selections…

Western Conference

Starters:

Backcourt: Luka Doncic + James Harden

Frontcourt: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis

Starters Analysis: Overall, the fan vote matches our predictions for who makes the starting squad.  One can argue that Nikola Jokic should get a frontcourt spot, but Denver has had some noticeably flat performances this season and it is hard to argue in favor of omitting one of the LA superstars.

West Reserves Analysis: It has been an annual tradition to snub 2-3 very deserving candidates in the West.  Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, CJ McCollum, Rudy Gobert and many others can tell you how hard it is to crack the top 12.  Let’s start with the players who we think will *for sure* make it:

With Denver and Utah positioning themselves to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Donovan Mitchell and Nikola Jokic are locks to get voted in by the coaches.  Mitchell, who will be a first-time All-Star, has certainly paid his dues in the eyes of coaches and has his Jazz team firing on all cylinders of late – winning 10 of their last 11 games.

dm_200119_thunder_chris_paul_default
Despite many predicting him to request a trade to play elsewhere, CP3 has the Thunder in comfortable playoff position (Photo Credit: ESPN)

The other success story that will almost certainly be rewarded in the form of an All-Star bid is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s surprisingly decent season.  This almost guarantees Chris Paul will be selected, as his leadership has been well documented and is a worthy accomplishment that coaches will recognize.  Shea Gilgeous-Alexander, who was the key trade chip in the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers, has been a huge part of why the Thunder have played this well – but his time will come later.

This leaves us two frontcourt openings and two wildcards.  With the West as loaded as it is, we’re looking at several potential candidates on winning teams: George, Gobert, Porzingis, and Russell Westbrook to name a few.  Then there are the great players whose teams are having subpar seasons: Lillard, McCollum, Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, KAT, and Wiggins. Let’s also not forget rookie sensation Ja Morant, who has led the Grizzlies to the 8th seed in the West (!!) and created a level of excitement in Memphis that hasn’t been seen or hoped for since Jason Williams.  So how do we narrow this down?

PG13, despite having missed 17 games, is likely going to be voted in by the coaches coming off his All-NBA season last year with the Thunder.  He’s also perceived as a star carrying the load for the Clippers through the load managed season of his superstar teammate Kawhi. He remains a key reason why the Clippers are still managing to contend for a Top-2 seed in the West.

Everyone else is anyone’s guess.  The remaining frontcourt spot will likely go to Gobert, who has publicly expressed disappointment in years past and might elicit a sympathy vote from coaches.  So who gets the two remaining wildcard spots? It’s very hard to see a former MVP and triple-double machine Westbrook be on the outside looking in.  Given Houston is still a winning team, and Russ still puts tremendous pressure on opposing defenses, it is unlikely for coaches to pass on him.

Lou Williams would give the Clippers a third All-Star, which would not be warranted from the coaches’ perspective unless the Clippers were running away with the league’s best record.  The remaining spot, therefore, is bound to go to a player whose team has a losing record.  San Antonio, Portland, Phoenix, and Minnesota all have All-Star caliber players, but only one can get selected.  Our guess goes to Lillard, who is still in our Top 10 Fansure Player Index rankings and has been snubbed too many times in the past for coaches to do it again.  Personally, I would vote for Ja Morant. But it’s a given that coaches generally don’t vote for rookies (even LeBron in 2004) unless they are otherworldly exceptional and their teams have winning records.

Here’s a summary view of our picks this year:

2020 All-Star Selections

The Fansure Index: Measuring the Superstar Effect to Quantify Player Value

Superstardom and Dark Matter

How and when does an NBA player transcend from being simply an elite athlete to the near-mythical status of “superstardom”? With the obvious exception of LeBron James who was anointed a basketball King in his freshman year of high school, it is rarely obvious when this transition is happening. In retrospect, we can convince ourselves that the signs were there, but in truth there are many contributing factors that must come into alignment at just the right time for a player to emerge as a superstar. The multi-dimensional nature of superstardom makes it difficult to see as it is crystallizing. The elements that come together to form a superstar are a function of both on-court performance and off-court factors. When we have a superstar on our hands, these elements combine to form something that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Through the lens of a recovering rocket scientist, the alchemy of superstardom looks awfully like dark energy or dark matter – something that we do not have a descriptive framework for, but is pervasive and has very tangible effects that cannot be explained in its absence. Today, we at Fansure have made significant strides in peering behind the curtain of superstardom and quantified it with the Fansure Player Index. Solving the grand challenges of astrophysics will be left to our good friends over at NASA.


The Fansure Player Index

There is body of literature describing the observed economic effects of superstars [1-3]. Some of the most recent work in this area comes from our very own Scott Kaplan who has measured the impact of superstar popularity on secondary market ticket prices and Nielsen ratings (Figure 1). This research indicates that there are clearly a few tiers of players and only those in the upper echelon can individually move the needle for fans – as measured by ticket prices and viewership ratings.

What we are doing here is looking upstream of these end results to propose a metric that attempts to capture the contributing factors that generate a superstar and quantifies them through the Fansure Player Index. The direct on-court metrics which feed into the Fansure Player Index include a handful of well-known advanced metrics: John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER), ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM), Win Shares from Basketball Reference, and Game Score (also from John Hollinger). We synthesize all of these into one meta-advanced metric in an effort to balance out the imperfections of each statistic and get an average picture of the on-court contributions of each player.

In addition to the wonky advanced statistics, the Index also includes MVP odds and All-Star Votes. These factors are partially related to statistical performance, but also infuse some less tangible information into the Index regarding the perception of players. Finally, the Index includes fan-engagement related factors including the social media footprint. All of these metrics are rolled up into one number: The Fansure Player Index, where a “perfect” superstar is rated 100.

Future versions of the Index will include jersey sales to further inform the fan-engagement facet of superstardom and the number of “exciting” plays that a player creates (dunks, blocks, long-distance 3-pointers, for example) to add another dimension to the on-court performance of players.


Fansure Index Player Ratings

To nobody’s surprise, LeBron James is an absolute outlier. What is insightful here is to see the moat between him and the rest of the back quantified. When healthy, the second highest player on the Fansure Player Index is Stephen Curry (rated at 60.6 before the start of the season). With Curry injured this season, Giannis is holding down the second spot en-route to his second straight MVP caliber season. The steady climb of Giannis’ Index rating over the last five seasons is shown in Figure 2.  Still, Giannis and Curry are closer to the 10th or 11th player on the list than they are to King James.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Fansure Index since the 2014-15 NBA season

Beyond LeBron, there are clearly a few tiers of players as measured by the Index. The Tier 1 players appear to end with Anthony Davis at #5 and include those you would expect (Curry and Durant are in this tier when healthy), but also indicate just how quickly Luka Doncic has exploded onto the scene. In all likelihood Zion Williamson will find himself in this category in the very near future. A perhaps surprising omission from this top tier is Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who pays a pretty substantial superstardom price for not being on social media.

The second tier of superstars includes Kawhi, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler. Beyond that, there is a relatively slowly decreasing cascade of players which, rounding out the top 20 players, we will call Tier 3.

Fansure Player Index Distribution of the Top 20 Players
Rising and Falling Players As Measured by the Fansure Player Index

Comparing the Index of players from last season to this season, we see that some of the biggest increases belong to the younger generation of players who are starting to shine and those who are experiencing resurgence years (Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard). Despite having an impressive first season with the Clippers, Paul George has regressed from his near-MVP season last year, due in part to the injury he dealt with at the beginning of the season. As such, his All-Star vote totals and advanced statistics have taken a pretty appreciable step backward this season and, after being ranked as high as #6 last year, he has fallen to #13.


Summing It All Up

Fansure is a sports analytics company focused on predicting player availability that provides a variety of insights and services related to this core competency. In an effort to better understand the star players that dominate the NBA market we have developed a metric quantifying superstardom called the Fansure Player Index. This tool is being used to provide insights to everyone that is affected when superstar athletes are unavailable: fans, ticket retailers, teams, TV networks, fantasy sports participants, and the sports betting sector. We also use the Fansure Index to define the “top” players in our portfolio for our ticket protection product which provides fans a way to protect their in-game experience when their favorite player is absent and is live today at fansure.com.

Be sure to check back in after the final All-Star vote tallies have been announced when we will provide another update and also tell you about how we can measure franchise value using the cumulative contributions of the players on the court in addition to a similar index metric for team-related factors.

References

[1] Hausman and Leonard 1997, [2] Humphreys and Johnson 2017 [3] Kaplan 2020

These fans got their tickets reimbursed by Fansure when star players sat out.

For those who are still on the fence whether or not to take advantage of our player protection service – i.e. the option to protect your game day tickets based on whether a player of your choice ends up playing in the game you attend – maybe these success stories will help change your mind.

  1. Kyrie vs. Boston, 11/29/19 | $110 reimbursed: André from Portugal came all the way to New York to see his favorite player, Kyrie Irving, take on the Boston Celtics (his former team).  At the time, Kyrie was questionable for that game even though he had missed his return to Boston the game before (the front end of the home-and-home between the two teams).  Luckily for André, he protected his tickets for only $26 to get his money back.
  2. Paul George vs. Memphis, 1/4/2020 & Kawhi vs. NY Knicks, 1/5/2020 | $194 reimbursed: Jacob from Los Angeles is a season ticket holder for the LA Clippers.  He’s had to deal with the frequent disappointment of Kawhi Leonard pretty much punting any back-to-back games – something he did not expect when he made his initial investment prior to the start of the season.  Fortunately, Jacob protected his tickets for both games knowing that Paul George’s health was questionable as well.  For $48, Jacob was able to get the monetary peace of mind that he’d get his near $200 back for protecting his tickets through Fansure.
  3. Pascal Siakam vs. Portland, 1/7/2020 | $165 reimbursed: Fowad from Toronto knew that Pascal Siakam has been dealing with injuries this season.  So when he bought three tickets at $55/each to see his Raptors take on the Portland Trailblazers, he wanted to make sure his $165 investment wouldn’t be tainted by Pascal’s absence. Fowad not only got his tickets reimbursed for a mere $12/ticket, but actually got to see a thrilling game that ended with a vintage Carmelo Anthony hitting a game winner – albeit against the team he was rooting for.  Still, I’m sure Fowad was happy to protect his tickets and get a great game going experience!

Next time you go to a game, bear in mind that you could be the next person to get to go to a game for free if a player of your choice sits out.  After all, Why Pay If They Don’t Play?

Understanding the Economics of the NBA Regular Season


Why the NBA Regular Season does matter
NBA media and other folks have been touting the regular season as much too long and relatively dull. They say the stakes for an individual game are simply too low.
There are several factors that play a part in this viewpoint. First, there are 82 games spanning the course of 7 months, the longest of all major U.S. professional sports. Because of its length, the NBA competes with College Football bowl games, the NFL regular season, the NFL playoffs, and even NCAA March Madness.
“Load Management” has also taken hold, suggesting that the value of winning an individual game can sometimes be so low that players are better off “preserving themselves” for a potential playoff run, and thus sit out of some of these games (often times during back-to-back scenarios).
When turning to the quantitative metrics, the case that the regular season is too long only becomes stronger. FiveThirtyEight uses a metric to understand how much information each game in the regular season carries, determining the point in the regular season where a team’s record represents 50% luck and 50% skill. There are some striking discrepancies across major U.S. professional sports – in the NFL it takes 11 games, the MLB 67 games, and the NBA a strikingly low 12 games.
Taking this argument a step further, you would only need a 17.5 game regular season in the NBA to provide as much information about each team as the 16 game NFL regular season. Nobody is advocating for that short an NBA regular season, but the point rings true – it’s clear that from a competitiveness standpoint, the NBA regular season appears to be way too long. So what justifies its length?

 

The primary allure and unique feature of sports is the competitiveness aspect, namely uncertainty in the outcome of a matchup and designed parity across a league. For instance, a study analyzing Monday Night Football games found that TV ratings are primarily determined by a quality match-up between winning teams, a high level of uncertainty of outcome, and high-scoring (Paul and Weinbach 2007). The same finding is true in College Football BCS games, where ratings increase systematically throughout a contest when the outcome of that contest becomes more uncertain (Salaga and Tainsky 2013).

 

Yet, one of the important distinctions between the NBA and most other professional leagues (potentially excluding European soccer) is the starpower of the players, and how their popularity drives viewership independent of the competitiveness or of the quality of the two teams in a game. In fact, my independent research finds that the competitiveness of a single matchup (as measured by the point spread) isn’t a significant predictor of ticket prices or TV ratings in regular season NBA games.

 

While this isn’t a one-to-one comparison with the broader metric of how good each team is (as measured by their W-L record or playoff probability), which our research shows to be a strong influencer in ticket prices (and less so in ratings), it is an indicator that there are other important factors driving demand for the NBA regular season product.

 

On the other hand, popularity of players in a matchup is a huge driver of ticket prices and ratings. In fact, it can be even more important than the combined quality of the two teams playing! Have you ever gone to a game and seen Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant in person? How about LeBron James or Steph Curry? These are the most talented, most skilled, most explosive athletes this planet has ever seen, and their presence alone is worth the price of admission. There is a “superstar” effect that transcends the competitiveness of a game, how good the two teams playing are, and the market size of each team, among other factors, which makes the NBA a uniquely different product than hockey, baseball, and even football.

 

The set of “hockey stick” graphs below reinforce this point. In economics, the nature of a superstar is represented by huge increases in value as you move towards the most talented individuals in an industry (shown in seminal research by one of the most well-known economists in history, Sherwin Rosen).
HockeyStickGraphs

Figure 1. Ticket Price and TV Ratings Impacts for All NBA Players (Ranked by # of Fan All-Star Votes)

As you can see here, once you start to move into the top 10-15 players from a popularity standpoint (as measured by their All-Star fan votes over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons), the increases in ticket prices and TV ratings become sizable and significant. For instance, in games LeBron James plays in, the average ticket price increase compared to a typical game is on the order of 20-25%. We see similar effects with some of the other most popular players, including Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry.
The fact that there are 82 chances in a regular season (and 41 at home) to see these athletes perform, regardless of the other conditions surrounding the game, should be accounted for when we make arguments about the regular season. It’s also evident that the “number of chances” to see the most popular players matters – while the average impact on ticket prices when LeBron or Steph don’t play is between $30-42 per ticket, when they miss away games the price impact ranges from $55-75 per ticket (Kaplan et al. 2019).

 

Now, the new age of load management has thrown a sizable wrench into this construct. There is a case to be made that the regular season is indeed too long if the top stars are going to take nights off (or choose not to play with minor injuries that players used to play through), which is a shared sentiment among some writers. Under these conditions, the product no longer has the appeal it’s designed to produce, and fans paying hard-earned money or advertisers expecting a certain number of viewing households are now experiencing reduced value.

 

These factors may suggest benefits of a slightly shorter regular season (which the NBA has already suggested) to avoid back-to-backs and space out games a bit. This way, expectations about the quality of the product can be better met for the several important stakeholders involved.

 

The most important takeaway is this: fans pay for the game-day experience. Who could possibly get tired of watching LeBron James or Stephen Curry play, no matter how good the other team, no matter how competitive the game, and no matter how the game may or may not impact playoff probability? More than any other professional sport, this is what makes the NBA different. The players are on center-stage, their athleticism on full display. More specifically, there are only 5 players on the court at a time, and each is perfectly visible (unlike football or hockey).

 

The narrative needs to be changed, and all of the factors considered. The regular season does matter to a whole lot of people that can’t afford to go to playoff games, or only get a chance to go to one or two games a year (and even that comes with a very high cost). The more chances we have to do that, the more reasonable are ticket prices and the more accessible the stars.

 

A longer regular season also makes sense for the stars themselves! Player salaries hinge on these revenues, and a much shorter schedule is going to have significant financial impacts. Relatedly, a significantly shorter schedule would reduce the window in which players receive national attention. With the current setup, players get to brand themselves for 9-10 months out of the year, something that doesn’t happen in other professional sports.

 

If you’re feeling interested in a deeper dive into the economics of superstar players in the NBA, check out our independent academic working paper that was featured at the 2019 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Steph and LeBron fans will understand.

NBA “Load Management”

Load management has been among the most debated topics in the NBA so far in the 2019-20 season. When Kawhi Leonard sat out two nationally televised games within a week – including a highly anticipated rematch against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, November 6th – the media expressed their displeasure with the LA Clippers’ decision to sit out the defending Finals MVP, as did fans.

That criticism and a $50,000 fine hasn’t stopped the Clippers from preserving the long-term health of their prized free agency acquisition. He has now missed six of the Clippers’ first 19 games of the still-early NBA season with no signs of playing in full sets of upcoming back-to-back games.

The question is – what can anyone do about it? Well, at Fansure, we can protect the cost of your game tickets based on whether Kawhi plays. Our machine learning algorithm also gives us the ability to predict the likelihood of Kawhi (or any NBA player) sitting out of a specific game. Check out our future outlook for upcoming Clippers games:

For comparison’s sake, we included Paul George who recently recovered from shoulder surgeries in the offseason. So far, George has not seen any restrictions in playing time and has not missed any games since making his return. But, it is highly likely that the team will strategically rest him to preserve him for their highly expected deep playoff run.

While Kawhi has been considered the ‘face’ of load management, other notable players including Kristaps Porzingis, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, and others have taken games off out of precaution this season.

If you are looking to buy tickets to a game to see Kawhi, George, or any star player, please check our website at https://fansure.com to protect your ticket purchase for upcoming games!

Introducing the Fansure Feed

At Fansure, we recognize the importance of seeing the world’s best athletes competing. We know that seeing your favorite player makes all the difference in one’s experience, whether it’s LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Roger Federer.

When star players are unable to give it a go for whatever reason – be it injury, rest (aka load management), personal reasons, suspensions, or any other reason – it can disappoint a lot of people including fans, TV networks, and any other paying customer. We are here to help in that situation!

Launched in October 2019, Fansure aims to protect the financial well-being of those with a vested interest in seeing star players perform. Currently, we offer a service to fans who purchase NBA tickets with the primary intent of seeing a particular player (e.g. LeBron, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard) and want to get reimbursed their ticket cost if that designated player ends up sitting out of that particular game.

Going forward, we aim to scale and offer our player-based protection to all major professional sports not only for fans, but companies who have a financial interest in a star player being available for games. Be sure to follow our blog so we can keep you posted!

Also, don’t forget to protect your ticket for any future NBA game today. Why pay if they don’t play?