By GANNON HANEVOLD
Moapa Valley Progress
In the month of July, the professional sports world is in one of its quietest moments of its unstoppable cycle of action. Sure, the MLB season is in full swing, and that satisfies the avid sports fan’s appetite for competition. But most still crave more.
Lucky enough for fans in southern Nevada, while they don’t get the pleasure of seeing a sports team year round, they do get to benefit from the excitement of the annual NBA Summer League, which has been growing in popularity and attendance year after year.
Beginning in 2004, the NBA has brought some of the most talented, young rising stars in the league to Las Vegas for their summer tournament; and the excitement has continued to grow.
In 2017, according to KVVU Las Vegas, the tournament has seen averages of around 10,000 people in attendance each day for the ten day event. The record shattering numbers are bringing in plenty of revenue for the NBA as well as the city of Las Vegas and UNLV.
While money and publicity are crucial factors that play in to the success of the NBA Summer League, what it is truly all about is giving young players an opportunity to showcase their talents to NBA scouts and prove they can play on basketball’s biggest stage.
Each year, the league sees breakout stars in the month of July — such as Glen Rice Jr. in 2014 or Tyler Ulis in 2016.
It seems as if nearly every aspect of the NBA summer league brings nothing but positives for its host city, fans, and players participating in the action.
Evidently, some questions could rightfully be posed. For example: Why has a professional sports league as popular as the NFL not yet adopted a similar idea? Would such an idea work for the sport of football? The answer to the first question is one I’ve yet to find, and the answer to the latter is a question intriguing enough to look into.
The monetary success of such a league shouldn’t be very difficult to gauge. The NFL, which (as of 2016) brings in the most money of any other sports league in the world, would undoubtedly be able to bring in fans to spectate if they were willing to let league franchises sponsor an offseason team.
The problems with the idea span beyond the dollar signs, however. Convincing NFL teams to volunteer to put forth a full 53-man roster of players would be difficult. Not only would they have to be paid, but they would have to be compensated for injuries and the laundry list of other problems the sport of football experiences.
This is why the NFL has to look at the NBA as a model for how to start a developmental offseason league. The Las Vegas Summer League hosted just six teams, and a miniscule attendance number (especially compared to what it has become today), in its inaugural season. This was likely due to doubts from teams over its overall value. Although, as is clear now, what was once a pint-sized round robin tournament has blossomed into one of the great sports spectacles of the summer. Perhaps over a five to ten year span, like the NBA, the NFL could turn an offseason league into an equally successful event.
Many have had such an idea before as well. Leagues not associated with the NFL have been formed and disbanded countless times over the past twenty years. Even as recently as April, The Spring League, an organization featuring four teams, attempted an offseason league that featured not much more than a handful of vaguely remembered names for the casual football fan. It certainly didn’t live up to the buzz created when the news broke of The Spring League’s arrival. Like its various counterparts, such as the XFL, FXFL, and USFL, to name a few, the league ultimately flopped, proving that what is needed for a summer league to thrive, is familiarity.
What makes the NBA Summer League so successful each and every year, is that fans desire to come out and watch their favorite team’s most opportunity-hungry players battle it out with team rivals and more. When starting an offseason developmental tournament, teams’ association with real NFL franchises is crucial to long term success.
In the end, as stated when discussing the NBA’s Summer League, what this hypothetical event would be all about is giving aspiring athletes an opportunity to show talent scouts and NFL teams their abilities. With hundreds of college football teams in various divisions nationwide, there wouldn’t be a shortage of players with a dream of making it to the NFL.
While it might be difficult to pull off, a competition similar to the NBA Summer League would be worth experimenting with…if the NFL was willing to take a shot at it.