Lessons from the NBA Play-In Tournament for Sports Leagues

Lessons from the NBA Play-In Tournament for Sports Leagues

The NBA is a league that has experienced quite a pivot in the last few years and is facing a new era of basketball saturated with young talent. Entering the first round of playoffs this week, the Los Angeles Lakers, of all teams, will be kicking off the 2023 NBA playoffs.

This follows their surprising 15-point deficit comeback against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night during the play-in tournament. Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are sitting as a seventh-seed team and will be playing against the Memphis Grizzlies this week as we walk into the NBA playoffs.

Before the sixteen-team playoff bracket could begin, eight teams had to play in a play-in tournament to determine the final four spots in the NBA playoff bracket. This wrapped up this past week, and let's just say that it's going to be an interesting ride through the playoffs this season.

NBA 2023 Playoffs Schedule

Via NBA on TNT

What is the NBA Play-In Tournament?

The NBA Play-in Tournament is the preliminary NBA post-season tournament that determines the final two playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference alike. This tournament takes place before the NBA playoffs and is the face-off between the four teams that ranked 7th through 10th in each conference.

The play-in-game format was adopted in the 2019-2020 season as part of the NBA's attempt to contain and control player health during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that the NBA play-in tournament isn't going anywhere any time soon.

According to this format, the ninth-place team hosts the tenth-place team in an elimination game. Meanwhile, the seventh-place team hosts the eighth-place team in a double-chance game. The winner of this game advances as the No. 7 seed into the NBA playoffs. 

The loser then hosts the elimination-game winner between the 9th and 10th place teams to determine the No. 8 seed competitor in the NBA playoffs. You also may have noticed that in all three of the play-in games, the higher seed team has the home-court advantage.

From there, the seventh-seed and eighth-seed teams will advance into NBA playoffs and proceed as normal, following the regular bracket format.

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Why is it important for league owners to make the playoffs exciting for fans and players?

The playoffs are a buzzing time for anyone involved in the sports world. From the players to the coaches, league owners to fans—playoffs are a time of celebration, bonding oneself to a jersey color, and raking in money.

League owners have some measure of responsibility when it comes to drawing in viewers for post-season activity.

The playoffs in any sport are a time of camaraderie. People take off time from work, stay up late to watch games, and are glued to their ESPN app to keep up with game scores and rankings. Fans paint their faces to match the color of their supporting team. Some spend hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars to watch their team duke it out live instead of from their couch. Bars are full of manic fans cheering and boo-ing with their buddies and gathered around snack tables, eating their anxiety away as the scores teeter between teams. It is during the playoffs that fans show their true colors and put their money where their mouth is.

If league owners want to make money, and we believe that they do, the playoffs are the time to pump resources into highlighting the drama of games, the excitement of games, and the marketing of games in order to build their brand and their bank accounts.

What are the benefits of the NBA Play-In Tournament?

1. Increased fan engagement and excitement

In the past couple of years that the NBA play-in tournament has been part of the NBA post-season, the anticipated fan engagement and excitement has come to fruition big-time. Last season, the NBA's national TV ratings were up by 25% in April compared to March. This increase seems to correlate with interest in the play-in-game fight for a playoff spot.

2. Increased player motivation and competitiveness

In an interview with Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, Silver shared that the play-in tournament creates a "renewed incentive for teams to remain competitive and to fight for a playoff position." This increased level of competition has been seen since the addition of the play-in games due to the fact that lower-seeded teams have an additional opportunity to compete for a post-season appearance, even if their standard 82-game season wasn't optimal.

3. Potential revenue increases

Of course, adding more high-stakes sporting events allows the opportunity for increased revenue. Viewership of the NBA play-in games has been strong, bringing in millions of viewers for each game—and their revenue. Even if teams do not earn their place in the NBA playoffs, competing in the play-in tournament still brings additional revenue to their pocketbook.

Average NBA franchise value by year ($billion)

Via Huddle Up

4 alternatives to the play-In tournament format

1. Single elimination tournaments (premiere league)

Single-elimination tournaments, also called knockout or sudden-death tournaments, are another type of elimination tournament in which the loser of each game is immediately eliminated from the bracket. Each time a team wins their match-up, they advance into another elimination round until the final match-up. The winner of the final match-up is, of course, the tournament champion.

2. Best-of-three series

Best-of-three series games are structured so that the winner of a series of three games is the competitor that won a majority (two) of the three games. If one of the two teams wins the first two games, the third game is ignored, and the winner takes the "crown." Tennis matches often use this format, similar to the MLB (Major League Baseball).

3. Wildcard playoffs (NFL football)

Wildcard playoffs is a tournament awarded to a team that fails to qualify for their playoff position the "normal" way. Sometimes, wildcard picks are decided by the sporting event organizers, while other wildcard playoff tournaments have specific rules for qualification.

In the NFL, for example, wildcard teams are teams that earned a place in the NFL post-season even though they did not win their division. Their placement in the post-season is determined by competing and winning a wildcard round. In the NFL playoffs, there are fourteen teams. Eight of them are division winners, while the remaining six are wildcard teams. NFL Wildcard Weekend 2022: From the Jaguars 27-Point Comeback to the Kelce Brothers Going Head to Head

4. Creative combination of the above

Some playoff systems combine features of each of these, allowing higher-ranked teams to skip rounds of the playoffs when they win their first match.

Where does Diamond Scheduler fit in? 1. SportsEngine Compatible

Many leagues and teams use SportsEngine as a platform for sports team management for day-to-day use. One of the perks of Diamond Scheduler is that it is compatible with SportEngine systems and can import/export files between SportsEngine and Diamond Scheduler for seamless information sharing and organization. Keeping up with your league planning from top-to-bottom has never been so easy. Entrusting Diamond Scheduler to handle the back-end work for you will free you up to work on what really matters: your team performance and training.

2. Wide variety of scheduling options

Whether you are planning cross-division games, practice sessions, weeks in advance, or last-minute changes, Diamond Scheduler makes any kind of sports scheduling easy and accessible. The platform additionally has an in-house League Creation Wizard that can accept both manual entry information or SportsEngine files in order to create a league and compatible league schedule. The schedule builder is also accessible through mobile devices, desktop applications, and tablets so that you can access your plans and timeslots anytime, anywhere.

Diamond Scheduler is also most helpful to individuals that are running a league with many teams and/or leagues. It is easy to get lost in all the moving parts, but Diamond Scheduler can keep your schedule sharp and prevent pitfalls or double-booking before it even happens.

3. Free trial option

If you are unsure about reframing your playoff format this season, you can always focus on your league's season schedule with Diamond Scheduler's free trial. Inputting all of your team and logistical information and creating a potential breakdown for hypothetical gameplay may be the key to helping you organize your league's season.

Frequently asked questions

How do play-ins work?

The NBA play-in tournament includes teams from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference that ranked in places 7th through 10th. These teams compete in a series of games in order to determine the No. 7 seed and No. 8 seed positions for the NBA playoffs.

The 9th and 10th ranked teams compete in an elimination game, with the loser losing their spot to compete in the post-season. Meanwhile, the 7th and 8th-ranked teams compete in a double-chance game. The winner takes the No. 7 seed spot in the playoffs, and the loser plays against the winner of the elimination game. The winner of that game then snags the No. 8 seed position for the NBA playoffs.

What is the reason for the play-in tournament in basketball?

The play-in tournament determines the final two playoff seeds in both the Eastern and Western conferences as the NBA heads into the playoffs during the post-season.

Who played in the play-in tournament in the 2023 games, and who is advancing?

  • April 11: Game 1 Hawks vs. Heat, Hawks took 7th seed spot in the NBA playoffs

  • April 11: Game 2 Lakers vs. Timberwolves, Lakers took 7th seed spot in the NBA playoffs

  • April 12: Game 3 Bulls vs. Raptors, Bulls advance to play Heat in the play-in tournament

  • April 12: Game 4 Thunder vs. Pelicans, Thunder advances to play Timberwolves in the play-in tournament

  • April 14: Game 5 Heat vs. Bulls, Bulls took 8th seed spot in the NBA playoffs

  • April 14: Game 6 Timberwolves vs. Thunder, Timberwolves took 8th seed spot in NBA playoffs

The NBA Playoff Begins

Via NBA on TNT Twitter

In closing

The NBA play-in tournament has created a measure of controversial opinions, ranging from people sharing about how unfair it is to others totally loving and diving deeper into the drama that this tournament creates leading up to the NBA playoffs. Some of the repercussions that fans and teams love about this new addition to the NBA post-season include the excitement of lower-ranked teams having the opportunity to experience the NBA playoffs, more fan engagement, and the financial opportunities that come along with hosting more games in the post-season.

There are other playoff formats to the play-in tournament that could work and ultimately increase the excitement, revenue, and fan engagement around any sports league.

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