TV networks don't need to panic yet when it comes to the NBA. But the real issue is cumulative: What happens when another major sports league lockout, strike, work stoppage -- or whatever anyone calls it -- happens. This stuff can result in collateral damage.
Earlier this year, the NFL narrowly missed experiencing what Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League did when they went through the entire 1994 and 2004-2005 seasons respectively without playing any games at all.
The NBA might still save itself -- even with a shortened season. Players, owners and fans increasingly know the real drama of the professional basketball season doesn't start until after the new year, typically after that other big TV sports event around the first week in February -- the Super Bowl.
Still, it's dangerous ground to play on, should all this spill into the new year. Fans only really returned to watching baseball three years after the strike for the dramatic -- but now perhaps tainted -- home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The NHL is still making a slow return with national games on the less-watched cable network Versus (soon to be NBC Sports Network).
With the NFL still the most lucrative and, some say, powerful franchise, MLB and the NBA consistently vie for distant second-place honors.
But with the current season in growing doubt, the NBA might slip to a definite third place -- with its $700 million in TV advertising dollars in jeopardy of going lower in the coming years.
Perhaps players and owners are reading and believing too many TV business headlines saying that with stable ratings as compared with other programming, networks will continue to spend heavily on big sports franchises.
But as was the case with the NHL and MLB, viewer temperament can indeed change, with sometimes long-term effects. In future years, this may compound itself if viewers get more of a sense that players, owners and networks are increasingly too greedy in their business goals.
This shouldn't be something any league wants to dribble away.