NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the return of fans in their numbers to arenas during the playoffs has enabled the North American basketball league to make a slight recovery on its losses through COVID-19.

Speaking in his annual pre-NBA Finals news conference before yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) opening game, which saw the Phoenix Suns register a 118-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Silver said that while the league has suffered from lack of fans in arenas for the majority of the past 15 months, the United States’ recent upturn in its recovery from the pandemic has helped matters.

A number of US major league sports venues have made plans to return to full capacity in recent weeks, with the NBA playoffs registering ticket sales in excess of one million. Silver had expected that the lack of gameday revenue during COVID-19 may result in a reduction in this income stream of 40%.

However, he now claims this dip could be closer to 33% due to some teams having fans back in arenas later in the regular season, plus the strong ticket sales for the playoffs. “Financially, for the season, without getting into it too specifically, we did somewhat better than we initially projected,” Silver said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

He continued: “No question, the league will incur significant losses over the past two years. I will say though, I’m not here to complain about that. Just speaking for our team owners, they view it as a long-term investment in the league and something very necessary to keep these organisations going. And by the way, it was shared sacrifice by our players as well.”

The NBA estimated its revenue loss from last season at $1.5bn (£1.09bn/€1.27bn), but is expecting a return to a normal 82-game season for the new campaign starting in mid-October. “If things continue on track and we can move toward a new season next year that looks a lot more like normal, we’ll have weathered it very well,” Silver said.

Meanwhile, Silver said he also hopes the league’s only Canadian franchise, the Toronto Raptors, will be able to return home in the autumn.

In February, the Raptors announced they would stay in Tampa for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. The Raptors in November decided they would begin their 2020-21 season in Florida amid travel-related COVID-19 restrictions in Canada. The Raptors had sought to open the season at their Scotiabank Arena home in Toronto and worked with public health officials at local, provincial and federal level to make this possible.

The Raptors haven’t played at Scotiabank Arena since February 28, 2020. Silver said of a return home: “I know it’s incredibly meaningful to the team. I think there was that additional burden placed on the Raptors more than any other team by having to relocate for the season. But we are hopeful the team will be back if things continue as we’re seeing in Canada right now.”