The report got an instant response from conservatives who mocked the idea. But for the Obama administration, the advantages of such a partnership are pretty obvious, as Politico explained: “The NBA season’s calendar tracks closely with the six-month period during which Americans have a chance to sign up for subsidized insurance around the country — beginning on Oct. 1. And NBA fans fit key demographics targeted by supporters of the health law.”
For the NBA, the advantages may seem less clear. The law, judging by conservative response and public polling, remains controversial, and taking a position on the program might risk alienating some NBA fans. But for the same demographic reasons that make the partnership appealing to the White House, it could be appealing to the NBA. Market research shows that blacks, Latinos, young adults, and Americans with low and low-middle incomes make up larger shares of the NBA’s fan base than they do of the general population, and all four of those groups are more likely to view both Obama and his policies more favorably. So while conservatives may be loud in their opposition, it’s hard to believe that their distaste for health care reform would take the form of concerted action like a boycott that would try to hurt the league economically. The NBA has embraced other issues that rankle conservatives, like climate change, environmentalism, and equal rights for LGBT Americans, without backlash.
And health care reform also gives the NBA another chance to try to demonstrate its good corporate citizenship. Sports leagues are always trying to show they care and are active in their communities, and health campaigns, like the NFL’s Play60 efforts, have been a way they’ve reached out in the past. Taking on health insurance isn’t an unprecedented issue for professional sports, either. Mitt Romney, in fact, partnered with the Boston Red Sox to market his health care law in Massachusetts in 2007. Showing that it wants its fans — those same groups that are overrepresented in NBA fandom are also more likely to go without health insurance — to have access to affordable medical care would seem a pretty good way to burnish the league’s image. And of course, people who spend less money on medical treatment have more to spend on basketball tickets.