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OPINION By Kalvin Tragethon

The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) new In-Season Tournament is making early season basketball games more interesting and engaging for fans.

  For many years, early season NBA basketball games have struggled to gain interest among the fans. With the NBA’s best players taking many regular season games off and the lack of importance that each individual NBA game has because of the  82 game regular season slate, it is no surprise that early season ratings are not fantastic. But, going into the 2023-2024 campaign, the NBA elected to try something new in an attempt to put more eyeballs on these early season match-ups.

  The In-Season Tournament (IST), which is modeled after “cup” tournaments in European Soccer, divided all of the NBA teams into six divisions, three from the Eastern Conference and three from the Western Conference with five teams in each. These teams then play each other each Tuesday and Friday night from November 3rd through the 28th. The team with the best record in each group advances to the knockout rounds to play another team in a different division. There are three knockout rounds, each consisting of one game, with the championship game taking place between the winner of the East bracket and the winner of the West bracket. 

  The grand prize for winning the tournament is $500,000 for each player, and of course a trophy.  Initially, I did not believe that $500,000 for an athlete that is already making upwards of millions of dollars would be enough of an incentive for players to elevate their game for  the product of early season basketball to drastically improve. However, early on this season I am being proven wrong.

  According to Sports Media Watch, viewership for the In-Season Tournament is up 55% from the equivalent four game windows last season. In addition, NBA games are now averaging 1.91 million viewers across ESPN and TNT, which  is an 11% increase from last season. 

  For these IST games, the basketball courts for the home team are different from the one that all other regular season games are played on. These different courts alone add an element of intrigue for fans, as they see the different courts and  know that these games are different from just your typical regular season game. Another interesting but ingenious rule put in by the NBA for this tournament is the fact that if two teams have the same record after group play, the winner of the group is decided by the point differential. 

  Last week, when I was watching the Celtics play the Chicago Bulls, they were also simultaneously competing against both the New York Knicks to see who would get more points to be in the tournament. The fact that the Celtics had to win by a certain number of points in order to clinch their spot to the next round made the Celtics play competitive, focused basketball until the final whistle. This level of intensity, focus, and increased game strategy made me watch the entirety of a game that I would have normally checked out of long before. This fact alone is a great thing for the NBA, because it means that people are going to watch the games until the end more often, because every point that is scored in the game has an impact.

  All and all, the first ever In-Season Tournament has been a huge success, and over the next couple of years, as the NBA has time to fine-tune the rules and regulations of the tournament, I would only expect the tournament to improve. I would also expect to see other leagues, such as the National Hockey League, consider adopting a tournament similar to the one seen in the NBA, to try and get a ratings boost just like the NBA was able to do.