As a freshman at Harvard Law School in 1988, Jeff Kwatinetz remembers listening to “Straight Outta Compton,” the iconic rap album released that year.
About a decade later, when Kwatinetz formed his entertainment and production company, known as The Firm, he signed a contract with former NWA legend Ice Cube. It was the start of an unlikely friendship and a business partnership that remains as strong as ever.
Kwatinetz and Ice Cube have worked together on numerous television and film projects. And in January 2017, they co-founded BIG3, a three-on-three, half-court summer basketball league, featuring many recognizable former NBA players. The league plays its games in major arenas across the country for 10 consecutive weekends from late June following the NBA Finals through early September before the start of the NFL regular season.
The BIG3 is now in its third year, which is quite an achievement considering the number of early stage sports leagues that have failed to make it this far. For example, the Alliance of American Football received a lot of attention in its first games in February, but the league deposit for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two months later.
Still, that doesn’t mean the BIG3 has been running smoothly since its inception.
The league announcement As of Wednesday, former NBA players Lamar Odom, Bonzi Wells, Baron Davis and Jermaine O’Neal were “deactivated” for the season, meaning they would no longer be allowed to play for their teams. All four players were on the rosters this season, but Odom was the only one to actually appear in a game. Odom scored two points in the first game of the season before being sidelined for the next two games. BIG3 did not provide a reason to kick players out of the league, although Ice Cube Recount TMZ Sports that “as a league we want players who actually play” suggesting they weren’t fit or ready to compete. O’Neal, however, will remain on the league’s board of directors and advise its officers.
The press release also noted that “several league staff changes will also be made in order to maximize communication and the smooth running of the league.” The BIG3, however, intends to keep its management team intact, including NBA Hall of Fame member Clyde Drexler as commissioner and former Oakland Raiders general manager Amy Trask as chairman. from the administration board.
And BIG3 decided last week to cut ticket prices by 50% for the rest of the season. Attendance had fallen to around 10,000 fans per game from 13,000 last season, prompting the league to think about what was wrong. Based on social media comments, the BIG3 found that many fans complained that the tickets were too expensive. NBA Summer League games start at $ 25 per ticket for 10 games, compared to a minimum of $ 27.50 per ticket for a triple BIG3. Add taxes and fees to the arena and TicketMaster, and BIG3 tickets approach $ 50 each.
“If a father or mother wants to bring a family of four, it takes $ 200 before parking, goods and food,” Kwatinetz said. “We read a lot of responses. Cube and I watch this stuff, and it breaks our hearts. We don’t want people to be unable to participate. And for the long term of the sport, this is also a good deal.
He added, “For the long run of the league, we need people to see it. If a lot of people say they can’t go because they can’t afford it, then it’s not good for the league in the long run.
Kwatinetz also attributed part of the drop in attendance to matches being played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons this year compared to Friday nights last year. The league changed the schedule as it changed television partners.
After Fox televised BIG3 games for the first two years, the league moved this year to CBS, which airs 20 hours on CBS and 25 extra hours on CBS Sports Network.
So far, TV numbers have not been as high as they were last year. Last weekend, for example, the BIG3 games on CBS had a rating of 0.5 and drew 713,000 viewers, a slight drop and 22% drop in viewership on FOX from a year ago, according to the Sports Media Watch website. However, this year’s matches were broadcast in front of the Women’s World Cup final, while last year’s matches faced little competition on a Friday night. The BIG3 also argues that it attracts a younger population than what CBS typically sees in these time slots.
Kwatinetz said the league could have signed a more lucrative deal with a streaming platform, but it chose CBS because it would lead to a wider distribution.
“For any young sport, the key is exposure,” he said. “It gives us the greatest exposure. They have been great working with them.
He added: “This is a great opportunity. We had Saturday and Sunday afternoon. What could be better? If we had just gone looking for money, we would make more money, but we would be seen by a lot less people. We are not here to make a quick buck and sell. We really believe in it for the long haul.
Kwatinetz believes the league’s financial support is also more secure and transparent than it was in the beginning. In April 2018, two months before the start of the second season, Kwatinetz and Ice Cube deposit a lawsuit against investors from Qatar who they say did not fully fund their investment and tried to take control of the league. A United States District Court Judge fired most, but not all, of the claims at the end of last year. The dispute is ongoing and the Qataris are no longer involved.
“It’s always important to have investors who are aligned with you in terms of goals,” Kwatinetz said. “I believe we have a great set of investors who are aligned with us. It was a mistake. We trusted some people who vouched for it (Qatari investors), and we shouldn’t have. It was a learning experience.
BIG3 also made other changes this year. It has expanded to 12 teams of eight and lowered the age limit to 27 from 30. Some of the best players to date include former NBA All-Stars Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire and veterans of the league Josh Smith, Cuttino Mobley and Ricky Davis.
“Anyone who retires is going to get a call from me, Ice Cube or Thomas Scott (BIG3 director of basketball operations and former Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach),” Drexler said. “We are going to force them to refuse us. At least they’ll know they’re wanted because we want the best players in the world.
As the league evolved, it discovered that it could thrive even without the most recognizable ex-stars. When the BIG3 first launched, one of its big names was Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. But Iverson was not in good shape and even had suspended for missing a game. The league is now focused on players who are still able to compete at a high level.
“Cube says, ‘The league is about your game, not your name,'” Kwatinetz said. “We’re not trying to make fun of people’s names. It’s not the circus or the Harlem Globetrotters. It’s entertainment, but entertainment is about seeing the best three-on-three players in the world. Our guys might be older than the guys in the NBA, but that means they have more experience and a higher basketball IQ.
Since Kwatinetz and Ice Cube first brought up the idea of launching BIG3 a few years ago, they’ve met leaders from other leagues including NBA, UFC, and Major League Soccer. Both men are avid sports fans and savvy businessmen. They know that the history of professional sports leagues is filled with more failures than successes, so they want to choose the brains of people who have been able to get through the ups and downs of such endeavors. Most of their colleagues are impressed that the BIG3 has been able to go this far and meet the challenges of a start-up, but Kwatinetz says the BIG3 will continue to evolve and change.
“We haven’t done it yet,” Kwatinetz said. “We will be successful when we are in grade 10 and earn some money. We are in the third year. Yes, we’ve done better than any league since the UFC, but that was 20 years ago. It does not mean that we are successful. We must build so that in 10th grade, it is healthy.