<
>

Is NBA ready to call London home?

Tom Dulat/Getty Images for Leaders

LONDON -- The NBA isn't quite ready to follow the lead of the NFL by going in deep overseas, but the scale of the league’s new television deal in the United States need not be a barrier to the concept of finally planting a franchise outside North America, according to commissioner Adam Silver.

Speaking in London ahead of Thursday’s one-game trans-Atlantic stop between the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks, Silver -- nearing his first anniversary on the job since succeeding David Stern -- confirmed that the NBA is closely studying their counterparts in football and the heavy investment made in shifting three NFL regular-season games in 2014 to London, with very overt ambitions to eventually provide the city with a permanent team.

Beyond this week, there is no firm commitment from the NBA even to return to London next season, league officials told ESPN.com, despite a sellout crowd at The O2 Arena on Thursday. And while Silver signaled he will seek to reinvest some of $24 billion in rights fees coming his way from ESPN and Turner Broadcasting over the next decade outside his home market, he remains cautious about matching the NFL’s speed and scale.

“We study what the NFL is doing very closely and what all leagues are doing,” he said. “I would say that they’re a very different schedule. They play once a week. There are bye-weeks built into the schedule. It’s a very different proposition in terms of them putting a team here. Which is why they’re ahead of us and they seem determined to put a team in London, and they seem to be doing a terrific job.

“People are already talking to us about the density of our schedule. The amount of back-to-backs. So for the NBA, for teams to travel over to Europe to get the appropriate rest, it required that the remainder of the schedule be that more compact. It’s a complex issue for us.

“For scheduling reasons, if we were to put franchises, or a franchise in Europe -- and David Stern had the same view -- we would have to put multiple franchises here. I don’t think it’s realistic that you could put one team. If we were to come to Europe, it would need to be with a division rather than a single team.”

Addressing a wide range of topics in front of British and American media, Silver revealed that NBA officials have held talks in London with United Kingdom betting providers to learn more about the European gaming market, which openly allows legalized wagering on professional sports, the NBA included.

“[It’s] something we’ve been studying for years,” he said. “I’m not sure what the next steps will be. I’m not looking to actively lobby Congress to make changes. I think that as states, and governors, look at the issue as it pertains to revenue sources in their jurisdiction, they will ultimately turn to Congress and look for a change in our federal law.”

One other part of the NBA’s visit has been a close-up look at the structure of European soccer and basketball competitions with a view, perhaps, to introducing a knockout Cup complement to league play in order to provide a secondary trophy within the season.

How that would fit in with an already-dense schedule remains open to debate. However, what seems fixed for the immediate future is the concept of altering the playoff structure and the seeding format to take into account the huge disparity in strength between the currently-dominant West and the weaker East.

“The best option is currently the way we’re seeding teams now,” Silver stated. “I've said before that we’re looking at other ways to seed teams. But it seems all the alternatives raised different issues in terms of the schedule, the way the conference competition the division competition, the amount of travel.

“For example, there’s a lot of focus on the number of back-to-backs, four games in five nights, to the extent if we changed the current division structure, it would require even more travel. I’m open-minded on the issue, but I can’t say today I believe there’s a better way.”