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Tsai optimistic on NBA, can see ‘rapid testing’ at arenas

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images

In an interview with CNBC’s “Delivering Alpha,” Joe Tsai says he remains optimistic about the NBA and live sports in general ... and raised the prospect of rapid testing at arenas.

Still, though, Tsai admitted that next season could be “a little bit tricky” with unknowns including the availability of vaccines...

As he has in the past, Tsai told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin that live crowds at NBA games is a big part of team revenues. Earlier in September, Tsai told an audience of Yale students that half an NBA team’s revenue comes from ticket sales.

“The thing about live sports is that a very big part of the economics of the teams comes from having fans in the building so in the COVID era with social distancing —people not being able congregate in a place— that’s going to really put a dent in the economics but these are challenges that be overcome with time.”

He noted that both the availability of a vaccine and testing could push things along although he was careful not to offer specifics and not speak for the NBA.

“We know there is going to be vaccine. You can have rapid testing programs before people coming into the building that at some point is going to be coming back to normal.”

Later Wednesday, Adam Silver confirmed that the league is considering rapid testing as part of next season’s protocol...

The most common rapid tests — using a nasal swab — can offer results in as little as 15 minutes. The NBA, of course, has used rapid testing in the Orlando “bubble” as part of its safety protocols. The NBA and Yale (Tsai’s alma mater) have also experimented with a saliva test to see if the tests match the gold standard of swab tests. They did and the FDA authorized the saliva test last month.

Bottom line, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about next season.

“We’re kind of looking at ... obviously we are in the playoffs right now very excited about the Lakers and the Heat, congratulations to them ... and the next season is going to be a little bit tricky because we don’t anticipate a lot of fans, full buildings, into the arena any time soon,” said the Nets owner, who added that remains optimistic long term.

“Guess what. The following season, 2022, 2023, we look for a very nice rebound. and the thing is live sports is a rare commodity. You could tell during the COVID period when there was no sports on TV, people were just craving for it. And once you out the games on, people have come back to watch sports enthusiastically. And so excited about the return of live sports.”

Tsai also mentioned that his Nets “did pretty well in the bubble”

Tsai also told CNBC that Alibaba, the main source of his wealth, is still focused on entering the B2B market —business-to-business transactions— in the US, helping American companies access the China market...

B2B is the foundation of Alibaba’s business in China. Since January of 2019, Tsai’s net worth has jumped by more than $5.5 billion. He is now worth more than $14 billion, making his the third richest owner in the league.