Two UX Tweaks That Helped The NBA Make $4.79Billion Last Year

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This story begins December 21,1891, on a cold winter day in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. A phys-ed teacher by the name of James Naismith was tasked with creating a way of ensuring that the star athletes of the YMCA he was working at could remain active during the freezing cold winter months.

He came up with an idea of a game that involved a wooden peach basket and an occasion football (similar to a soccer ball). It required two teams of 5 players who for the next 48 minutes would try to get the football into the basket on the opposite side of the indoor stadium..

With that first throw of a football into a wooden peach basket – the game of basketball was born.

Improving The Product 

For anyone who thinks basketball currently is a kind of boring game, I can assure you that watching a game in 1891 was A LOT more tedious.

First Ever Basketball gameIn this original incarnation, the baskets still had the bottom in-tact. This meant that every time a basket was scored, the game would need to be stopped and some one would need to set-up a ladder and retrieve the ball.

In 1893, two years after it’s inception, the peach baskets were replaced with an iron ring and a basket. A lot more practical and aesthetically pleasing. However, in this incarnation the basket was still whole, and each time a point was scored, the game would need to be stopped and someone with a large stick would need to poke the ball out of the net for the game to resume.

The game would have to wait another 7 years until someone decided that cutting off the bottom of the basket, allowing the ball to fall through would help the game continue a lot faster.


Listening to the audience 

In the 1950’s, the game was so popular in the US that a professional league was created to gather the best players from around the country – The NBA.

The NBA was formed to bring the game to a wider audience. Create a place where the entire country could come and see the best of the best.

And even though the game had come a long way since it’s Springfield origins of a peach basket and a football, the game still had one major flaw that would prevent it from appealing to a national audience.

Like most games the game utilised a clock that would count down the minutes until the winner could be defined by who had the most points. The problem was, that in its current incarnation, a team could score just a single point more than the competing team and then pass the ball around for 15 minutes until the siren sounded and they were the winner.

In fact, in one NBA game between the (Fort Wayne) Pistons and the (Minneapolis) Lakers in 1950, so bad was this issue that the final score of the game was 18-19. (source)

basketball is boring

From an audience perspective, this made for an extremely boring game. So much so, that in 1953, the NBC decided to not broadcast the national basketball championship. The game was far too boring, and people would simply not tune in.

The NBA saw the writing on the wall. Their entire business model was to bring an audience in, but how could they build an audience when the game was so… dull? The NBA was in a crisis and faced fading into obscurity.

That was until one team owner, Danny Biasone (the founding owner of the Syracuse Nationals), came up with a solution. He did some simple arithmetic and deduced that in order to keep an audience entertained, a certain amount of points needed to be scored. He found that the most entertaining games were the ones where teams scored 80 or more points in a game.

So Danny started documenting how many shots it would take for a team to score 80 points in a game.

He found that:

  • On average a team would need to take around 60 shots in a game to reach 80 points.
  • With two teams playing, that equals 120 shots per game.
  • The game duration at this time was 48 minutes, which equates to 2880 seconds.
  • 2880 seconds dived by 120 shots = 24 seconds per shot.

And so, the 24second shot clock was invented.

Invention of the shotclock

With this new rules instated, a team would now need to shoot within 24 seconds or else they would lose possession. Teams on average were scoring about 30 points more per game. Attendance to games rose by over 40% in the next few years.

In 2014 the NBA made $4.79billion dollars in revenue.(source)

Basketball is now played by over 300million people world-wide.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Honestly, I’m not really much of a basketball fan (I’m more of an AFL/ice-hockey kind of guy), but this story is one of my favorite examples of not giving up on a product you love. About those slight tweaks to improve those little ‘one percenter’ features can turn a good idea into an idea hat changes the world.

But ultimately, it’s a great example about being willing to challenge the norm to make something better than most thought it could be. That ‘will’ can sometimes be the difference between you project being either a peach box nailed to a wall or one that make $5billion a year.

Keep on tweaking.


Who the hell is Daylan Pearce?

Daylan is a digital strategist for branding agency Principals. Looking after digital and customer experience projects, Daylan has been featured in The New York Times,, B&T, ProBlogger and more. He once ate 13 McDonald's cheeseburgers in under 5 minutes, but strongly advises against anyone else ever trying that. He also feels slightly odd when writing about himself in the third person for blog biography summaries.