When the NBA releases its highly anticipated 2022 game schedule, Election Day will be blank.
The absence of games on that date is an attempt by the multi-billion dollar professional basketball league to increase voter participation in this year’s midterm elections.
“We don’t usually change the schedule for an external event,” James Cadogan, the Executive Director of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition told NBC News in an exclusive interview. The coalition was created after the murder of George Floyd and police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “But voting and Election Day are obviously unique and incredibly important to our democracy.”
In addition to blocking Election Day games, the schedule will show all 30 teams competing on the Monday before the midterm's Election Day — with each home team hosting an election-based themed fan night.
“That will really be the capstone to the entire start of the season where we will be communicating about the importance of civic participation, the importance of registering, the importance of getting out and voting,” Cadogan said.
The scheduling change marks a significant departure from previous practice. While COVID pushed the start of the 2020 season past election day, eight teams competed on Election Day 2018, 12 teams in 2016, with 16 teams playing the night of the 2014 midterms.
Dave Zirin, an MSNBC Columnist and Sports Editor at the Nation Magazine says the move is “unprecedented,” but fits a years-long priority for the league and its players.
“Getting fans into the voting booth has been part of how the NBA really has defined politics for themselves, for their players and for their audience, so this isn’t surprising,” Zirin said. “But what it is, is different, and we should acknowledge that.”
In 2020, the league worked with cities to convert 23 arenas and team facilities (many closed because of the pandemic) across the country into official early voting and election day polling sites. Beyond voting, facilities were used as ballot processing and drop off locations and even spaces to recruit and train poll workers amid shortages.
While the Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena was the target of false and debunked claims of election fraud by former President Donald Trump and others, the downtown facility hosted nearly 40,000 voters—the most of any professional sports arena in 2020 according to a data analysis by USA Today Sports.
This year, the NBA says it is again working with cites to repurpose facilities for election-related activities. Cadogan says even if some see the moves as symbolic, there is power in the example.
“If we do something that some might call a symbol, I would say that’s a good symbol,” Cadogan said. “If we were talking about getting out, registering, voting, making your voice heard in whatever way you think is most important, those are symbols that I think most people can and would support.”