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October 13, 2019

An oral history of the Sixers vs. Magic preseason game no one could watch

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Markelle-Fultz-Magic_USAT_101319 Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports

Markelle Fultz is hoping to salvage his No. 1 pick status with the Magic this season.

The year is 2019. The Sixers, having gone through one of the most publicized and scrutinized rebuilds in the history of sports, are now one of the championship favorites heading into the upcoming NBA season. Fan interest has never been higher.

This is the (absolutely, completely made up) story of how a basketball game involving that team never makes it to air.

(Again, to be clear, this is fictional, and I accept no responsibility if you take this seriously.)


SOME GUY FROM NBC: In years past, fans have made it clear how upset they were when we made the choice not to broadcast preseason Sixers games.

ANOTHER GUY FROM NBC: Remember when we weren't going to show the game the team played in Kansas City in 2017, and so many people from Twitter made fun of us for the decision that we lined up an arena feed that cut out intermittently during the broadcast?

SOME GUY: Damn, what a classic!

ANOTHER GUY FROM NBC: So when we sat down for our preseason planning, there were a lot of great ideas being thrown around the room. Doug from accounting asked a money question: why not take that fan outrage to the next level?

SOME GUY: Everything lined up perfectly for us. You have this rare situation where it's not just that the Sixers are a good and interesting team, but they're also playing against their former No. 1 overall pick in the preseason. During a time of the year where there are no stakes, we had a built-in angle for storytelling.

ANOTHER GUY: Which is the perfect time to just take a giant dump on your fanbase and ignore the game altogether.

DOUG, FROM ACCOUNTING: These guys are full of shit, don't blame me for this.

NBA SPOKESMAN: Listen, we're in the middle of an international crisis because we've fostered a decades-long relationship with a country that habitually commits human rights abuses. The last thing we wanted to do at a time like this is to draw any attention to our product. We wanted to make sure people see that we have paper-thin values that can change at any time depending on how big of a check you're capable of writing.

DARYL MOREY: I'm just happy someone else made a completely avoidable mistake to take the heat off of me for a couple of hours.

SOME GUY: Anyway, the whole thing is going smoothly when we release the preseason schedule with the team, because I think Philly fans just expected we would step up and do our job by the time the games rolled around. A classic blunder!


ANOTHER GUY
: But we realized by the time Wednesday, maybe Thursday of last week rolled around that we might have a situation on our hands. We were continuing to spit in the face of our viewers at home and around the country who watch on League Pass — a dogshit service absolutely no one should pay for — and they were not welcoming it with open arms.

SOME GUY: It's the damndest thing. All of our market research suggested fans are way more concerned about our ability to save a little bit of money in the preseason than they are about watching their favorite basketball team play.

ANOTHER GUY: We're committed to a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of this polling error. Our best early guess is that we kinda ignored several key demographics in important counties and it depressed voter turnou—I mean, we got hacked. Foreign collusion, we think. The data was manipulated.

BRETT BROWN, IN AN EXTREMELY MAINE-SOUNDING ACCENT: For sure, I hear your question, we all would have loved for our fans to have a chance to see the team play. We have the words "Philly Hard. Philly Edge. Philly Real." in the locker room at our practice facility. We have a responsibility to deliver Joel Embiid to your television.

SOME GUY: At the end of the day, we expected the local crew in Orlando to bail us out at some point. Why aren't you pointing the finger at them? Their equipment is already in place there, if they had stepped up we would have been able to tell you that you could just pay $200 for League Pass, a service that barely works and has prompted fans around the league to create their own streaming methods year after year, no matter how annoying it is been to find a working link at times.

SOME LADY FROM FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: Look, we just have so much going on in the Orlando sports world on a daily basis, it was hard to scrape together the equipment and manpower. Wait, what's that over there?


ANONYMOUS NBA EMPLOYEE: Eventually, we realized this was an untenable situation, and we got word to our folks on the ground in Orlando that people would be resorting to illegal means to watch our product, which our broadcast affiliates had made impossible to watch legally.

It was up to us to make sure this was as miserable an experience as it could possibly be. We had to go beyond the streams being in 240p.

CHUCK, INSIDE MAN IN ORLANDO: As we showed anytime there was a replay review, we were more than capable of offering a pseudo broadcast angle through our arena feed. But who wants to see that?

AN INTERN WHO IS SOMEHOW INVOLVED IN PRODUCING THE ARENA FEED: Buddy, they don't pay me enough to provide you with an experience that's watchable from home. All I want to do is show up to the arena after having a few beers at Epcot, throw some tweets on the Jumbotron, use the Fortnite cam gratuitously, and put the next six months on a resume so I can get the hell out of here. 

SOME GUY: Would it have been compelling to see if the Sixers sagged off of Markelle Fultz, their No. 1 pick who has a documented history of fearing the three-point line? Yes. Would we have been able to use Fultz's production in this game as inspiration for future debate topics our fans are genuinely interested in? Yes. 

Would our fans have loved to see another game featuring a new look starting five that they've been waiting all offseason to see, hours after watching the Eagles suffer a humiliating defeat on the road? Yes. Is there an interest in how good Matisse Thybulle has been and how quickly he has flown past Zhaire Smith to snag rotation minutes? Yes.

ANOTHER GUY: You're not exactly making a good case for us here.

SOME GUY: Shut up, Darren.

BROWN: Horses for courses. Varejao. Malone line.

BEN SIMMONS, PASSING THROUGH: Coach, are you okay?

SOME GUY: Every business has to make decisions based on the bottom line. When the choice is between showing sports on TV and giving Ed Rendell his own featured segment of an Eagles postgame show, it's really a no-brainer for us.

At the end of the day, we're still going to collect your local broadcast fees every month so that we can air a bunch of paid programming, a drive time sports talk radio show, and what feels like four hours of poker tournaments a day that no one actually asked for. No matter what we do, you're still going to pay a jacked-up cable bill every month because most people would rather pay for convenience than have to go through the stream-searching process for every game.

And that's the real beauty of being the official rights holder. We're excited for another season with our Authentic Fans™.


Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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