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The Buck Stops Here: NBA banking on younger generation of fans

The NBA and its players’ association came to terms this week on a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement that basically comes down to this: The rich will get richer. The dramatic rise in salaries will be based on revenues, with players getting 51 percent of pie and owners 49 percent.

In a separate agreement, fans will continue lining their pockets every time they purchase a ticket, buy a LeBron Fathead and turn on the television. It comes down to simple supply and demand. The NBA has remains in high demand, particularly among young people who have become disenchanted with other sports.

Kids will be kids, with their favorite teams decided by their favorite players in their favorite sports. Football remains the most-watched sport in the United States by a mile, and that’s not going to change any time soon. But that doesn’t mean the NFL, which has lost entertainment value, will remain a favorite in the years ahead.

ESPN and Turner Sports are betting on the NBA with a nine-year contract worth $24 billion. The league is collecting $966 million this year, and television rights will climb annually to $2.6 billion in the final year. Essentially, they’re banking on their younger audience to spend more time and money than ever on hoops.

Recent studies have shown that 45 percent of NBA fans are between are between 10 and 35 years old. More than any other league, the NBA appears prepared for success in future decades because it has done a better job capturing the demographic of young people and selling its stars, such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

The NFL still has the TV throne, but it doesn’t have a single player who carries the same star power as LeBron and Steph or, for that matter, Kevin Durant, and perhaps Russell Westbrook. Look out for Kristaps Porzingis, too, because kids are smitten with the 7-3 rising star for the Knicks.

In 2015, the Washington Post ran a chart showing the median age for Major League Baseball fans increased dramatically, from 46 to 53 years old over a 10-year period ending in 2014. The median football age increased from 43 to 47 years old. The NBA, however, remained the same at age 37.

Basketball has experienced dramatically growth globally, too. It’s extremely popular across Europe and China. In 2013, Forbes reported that basketball was growing faster in popularity among young people than hockey – in Canada. In the years ahead, the same kids today will become sources of revenue.

The Post study and other data could be interpreted in various ways. To me, it reveals a widening generational gap among sports fans. Simply, many kids don’t share the passions of fathers and grandfathers who leaned toward baseball, for example, for outdoor leisure because their options were limited.

Older people grew up playing baseball and football, which were far more popular than basketball in previous generations. They’re accustomed to the slower pace of play and are more likely to sit for hours while watching games on television. In both sports, games routinely last about three hours.

Younger people tend to have shorter attention spans and are more likely to need constant stimulation. It can be found in basketball, hockey, lacrosse and soccer. Basketball games and lacrosse matches last about two hours and 15 minutes. Hockey games are slightly longer while soccer generally is shorter.

If you have kids who are in their teens or younger, there’s a good chance you see them glued to their smartphones as much as they’re watching TV.

NFL ratings were down dramatically early in the season but rebounded after the presidential election. Still, participation numbers have fallen at high school and youth levels have fallen with kids finding other sports, specializing in specific sports, playing more video games or participating in other activities.

Does that mean professional basketball is primed to take over professional football and baseball? No, not yet. But check back with the next generation.

Financial relief

When the Giants signed reliever Mark Melancon to a four-year contract worth $62 million, he came the highest-paid relief pitcher in baseball history. The monster deal dwarfed Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year deal worth $50 million deal in 2012.

Two weeks later, Melancon was the third-highest paid MLB reliever at $15.5 million per season. Kenley Jansen took a five-year hitch for $80 million, or $16 million per season, to remain with the Dodgers. Aroldis Chapman topped that with a five-year deal for $86 million with the Yankees.

One reason teams are paying big money for closers was seeing how the Cubs and Indians used their bullpens en route to the World Series. Cleveland in particular was creative when acquiring Andrew Miller from the Yankees, allowing Terry Francona to use him in middle relief when needed.

Look for that trend to continue in the coming years. It could reach a point in which relief pitchers are making so much money that they will devalue starters, who will be asked to provide fewer innings per start but more starts per season.

Baylor Blowout

Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey will take more than her share of blame for running up the score Thursday in a 140-32 victory over Winthrop, marking the biggest Division I rout to women’s hoops history.

Mulkey wasn’t attempting to embarrass her opponent no matter how lopsided the score. Baylor didn’t have a single player who played more than 21 minutes. They were forced to shoot because the shot clock.

If they really wanted to humiliate their opponent, they would have missed shots on purpose or stopped playing defense. The blowout could have been worse. Baylor was without its leading scorer, Alexis Jones, who was sidelined with a knee injury.

It’s easy to say now, but the biggest mistake was scheduling Winthrop for a non-conference game in the first place.

Interrogating Rex

People usually aren’t interested in nuances that come with verbal exchanges between the media and people they cover, which was why I didn’t bother getting into details behind my back-and-forth Wednesday with Bills coach Rex Ryan.

I’ll explain: Rex was asked how his players would respond after knowing his job was in jeopardy. Near the end of his answer, he insisted that he didn’t know his job was in question until the media told him Sunday.

So what’s the big deal?

If he didn’t know before he addressed the media after losing to the Steelers, it meant senior vice president for communications Scott Berchtold didn’t do his job. It was his responsibility to make sure the coach didn’t get blindsided by the media.

Ryan either lied to the media Sunday or was blaming a public-relations man for dropping the ball. Berchtold is a veteran public-relations man, so him not warning Ryan was highly unlikely. Rex refused to provide a straight answer, so I pressed for one. It was an attempt to clarify, which happens often.

Quotable

“Time is something that cannot be bought. It cannot be wagered with God. And it is not an endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life. I’m not an expert on time, or on cancer, or on life itself. I’m a kid from the small Illinois town of Batavia, who grew up on the Chicago Cubs, and made sports his life’s work, although there’s never been a day where it actually seemed like work. I have run with the bulls in Pamplona. I have raced with Mario Andretti in Indianapolis. I have climbed the Great Wall of China. I have jumped out of airplanes over Kansas. I have wrestled gators in Florida. I have sailed the ocean with Ted Turner. I have swam the oceans in the Caribbean. And I have interviewed Gregg Popovich. Mid-game. Spurs down seven. If I’ve learned anything through all of this, it’s that each and every day is a canvas, waiting to be painted — an opportunity for love, for fun, for living, for learning.” – Craig Sager, 2016 ESPYs.

Stats Inc.

103.5 – Dollars, in millions, that former NBA star Steve Francis earned during his 12-year career before he retired in 2009. He was arrested this week after allegedly breaking into a woman’s car and stealing items worth $7,000.

0 – Losses for Tom Brady in 86 career games in which the Patriots’ quarterback took his team into halftime with the lead.

2 – Passes completed by the Browns in a 6-3 victory over the Bills for their first victory in 2009 after opening with four losses. Cleveland lost its next seven games, won its final four and finished 5-11.

Extra Points

The Falcons scored six touchdowns last week in their 42-14 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams have scored five touchdowns all season at the Coliseum, where they are 1-5.

Florida is trying to get its house in order after mysteriously firing coach Gerard Gallant and summoning GM Tom Rowe to replace him. The Panthers denied reports claiming Dale Tallon returned to the GM role, saying he remains president of jockey operations and had full control over personnel. In other words, he’s still the GM.

Tiger Woods must feel he’s ready for regular duty on the PGA tour and plans to play for a while. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have signed a multiyear contract with Bridgestone to play their golf balls. Bridgestone didn’t sign Tiger for practice rounds, after all.

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