The Bubble Saved the NBA Over $1 Billion

In March 2020, COVID-19 drastically changed the end of the 2019-20 NBA season. As it became increasingly clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going anywhere, the NBA realized it had two options. They could cancel all games or come up with an unorthodox approach to the season. In the end, the NBA created the bubble, a move that ultimately saved the league over $1 billion in lost revenue. Here’s how they did it.

The unprecedented NBA bubble

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The NBA bubble became a reality in July. While the term implies that the NBA erected a giant bubble over a basketball court, in this case, the word bubble is metaphorical. As USA Today reports, the NBA found a space at Orlando’s Disney World, which could accommodate three different arenas and 22 teams.

The NBA limited the number of people allowed to enter the bubble. The people granted access included active players, a few members of the media, team personal, team executives, and a few sponsors. The NBA agreed that no fans would attend games. NBA Executive Vice President Kelly Flatow explained to Sports Business Daily:

“Our No. 1 priority was health and safety and from a business standpoint, it was important that we would finish the 2019-20 season, crown a champion and be able to include our business and media partners and develop a plan to bring our fans courtside.” 

People who’d been granted access to the NBA bubble were provided rooms in one of three hotels. While many believed that everyone would be restricted to the room and the basketball arenas, that wasn’t the case.

Everyone enjoyed freedom during their downtime. However, they were limited as to where they could go. If an NBA player failed to adhere to the rules, reports Sporting News, they were quarantined for 10 days before regaining admittance to the NBA bubble.

The success of the NBA bubble

LeBron James and Quinn Cook celebrate with their Lakers teammates after winning the 2020 NBA Championship
LeBron James and Quinn Cook celebrate with their Lakers teammates after winning the 2020 NBA Championship | Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

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While the idea of the NBA bubble seemed strange, in the end, the media and fans declared it a success. The league did a wonderful job limiting everyone’s exposure to the virus. Daily testing meant there wasn’t a problem with asymptomatic people spreading COVID-19 to the population. The bubble allowed the NBA to have a playoff season which the LA Lakers ultimately clinched.

While the players enjoyed having an opportunity to play the game they love, it wasn’t always easy. Everyone in the bubble was completely isolated from families and friends for the full three months of the NBA schedule. A few claimed that it felt like the longest stretch of away games of their lives.

Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors expressed his delight when he was finally reunited with his family. He claimed it took some of the sting out of losing, according to USA Today: 

“I think last time I saw them was Father’s Day, so it’s been a while. But it will be good to see everybody and right on time after getting our butts kicked yesterday. So, that’ll kind of take my mind off it a little bit today and I’ll get prepared and get locked in for the game tomorrow.”

The bubble helped the NBA save money

Creating the NBA bubble and keeping it operational for a full 100 days wasn’t cheap. Sports Business Daily reported that the NBA estimates the entire operation cost about $180 million. While it’s a lot of money and represents a serious financial gamble, it paid off. It’s estimated that without the bubble, the NBA would’ve lost more than $1.5 billion.