There was no honeymoon period for Adam Silver. In his first year on the job as commissioner for the National Basketball Association he banned a longtime owner, oversaw the sale of two franchises for record prices and inked a series of huge TV deals. And apparently he hasn’t broken a sweat.
Silver sat down with David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute (SBI) at the USC Marshall School of Business as part of the ongoing Commissioners’ Series, Wed., April 8 at the Galen Center, to discuss the present and, more importantly, the future of professional basketball.
Hosted by USA Today Sports Media Group, as well as co-hosted by the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, the event was attended by 250 students, faculty, staff and friends of the school.
“It was a hugely successful event, but of course everyone wants to come out and hear what this leader has to say,” said Carter. “He’s taking the league to the next level, and he’s making it look almost easy.”
Silver first explained why his transition into the commissioner’s role might appear so effortless – that he had in effect been training for the job for 23 years. After some years as a litigator, Silver left the law in 1992 to join the NBA as then Commissioner David Stern’s right hand man. “He gets all the credit for any smooth transition,” he said of Commissioner Stern. “In all my years working for him, he gave me access to everything. It is very rare in this day and age for someone to get this kind of opportunity.”
The Sports Business Journal ranked Silver number one on its list of the 50 most influential people in sports business in 2014. Sports Illustrated named him executive of the year. He was also recently named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine.
In a wide-ranging discussion followed by Q&A, Silver discussed issues including the NBA salary cap, sports betting, the role of data analytics in sports and the tremendous impact of digital media.
Digital has been good for sports, he said. “Market size doesn’t matter anymore. The difference between the Oklahoma City and Chicago markets is meaningless.” Mobile platforms mean live sports can be streamed anywhere in the world.
A case in point is Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s star shooter. “He has a global fan base,” said Silver, adding that some of the most ravenous fans are now in India and China. “With digital media, basketball is available to millions of fans,” he said. “It’s truly a global league.”
Broadcasters now buy rights across all platforms, which increases the reach, and the value, of premium sports content, he said.
This helps explain the recent headline-making $24 billion media deals the NBA reached with Turner Broadcasting and ESPN, which represents a new reality for major league sports as global entertainment.
“What we’re seeing is an enormous increase in consumption,” he said. “And mobile technology is what makes that possible. All these new platforms are only going to increase the value of our rights.”
The SBI’s Commissioners’ Series is an ongoing calendar of high-profile events featuring the leaders in the sports world discussing ethics and leadership in the context of contemporary issues facing their leagues or organizations.