Gil Fried, chair and professor of sports management at UNH, believes that the San Antonio Spurs' decision to bench several of their healthy stars for a nationally televised National Basketball Association (NBA) game is bad for the league. NBA Commissioner David Stern fined the team $250,000 for its actions.
“Fans come to see a competitive game involving the top players, especially a star such as Tim Duncan, who might retire soon,” said Fried, an expert on sports law, sports facility management and the fan experience. “The commissioner has the responsibility and obligation to do what is in the best interest of the sport.”
Before the December 2012 game against the Miami Heat, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich sent four of his best players back to San Antonio, including Duncan, a future Hall of Famer, to prepare for the team’s next game. The game in Miami was the Spurs’ fourth road game in five days.
Fried conceded that if the Spurs decided to rest one player it would not have been a problem. The issue arose when they decided a group of their players would not play.
“The issue is not just what is best for the athletes, but what is best for the sport,” said Fried. “The question is, what is in the best interest of the game, versus what is best for a given team or a given player?”
In this instance, though, fans have little recourse, said Fried.
“They can complain, but the ticket does not guarantee who will play or the quality of play,” said Fried. “They have a ticket to watch a game, but no guarantee of the type of game.”
The Phoenix Suns, another NBA team, announced that they were offering a guarantee for an upcoming game that if its fans do not have fun they will get a refund with no questions asked. Fried noted that teams have offered guarantees in the past that if a team does not win, fans will get free tickets to a future game.
With the Suns’ offer, there is a possibility for abuse, said Fried.
“If the team is willing to freely give back money, the question is, will fans abuse this?” asked Fried.