NBA rumors: Draft takes ratings hit

The NBA Draft was just the latest sporting event to take a hit in the ratings. Wednesday’s NBA Draft averaged 2.13 million viewers across ESPN and ESPNU, down 31% from both last year (3.09M) and 2018 (3.07M) and the smallest audience for the event since at least 2007. Figures do not include the 82,000 who watched coverage on NBA TV.

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The first round of the draft averaged 2.65 million — ESPN’s top NBA audience in the month of November since 2018 — and ranked second for the night in adults 18-49 and 18-34 behind “The Masked Singer” on FOX. The steep decline and multi-year low for the NBA Draft is in keeping with the broader trend facing the sports media industry. The NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup Final, final rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open — and more — have hit historic lows since the wave of cancellations and postponements in March.
If they are able to return to that status as soon as next season, how much do you think that’ll help the league from a bigger-picture perspective in terms of TV ratings and that sort of thing? “That’s hard to predict. As a league, we recognize that the restart was tough in some ways. We don’t read too much into the ratings from this past summer. We were in a different time of year, different competition. There was obviously enormous and intense interest in election coverage. The goal of the league is to have 30 teams that all, when well-managed, are in a position to compete for championships.
League officials have publicly downplayed concerns about the recent ratings decline, pointing to the N.B.A.’s mammoth social media following as a source of optimism about its broader appeal. Vocal critics — with little to no evidence — increasingly attribute the plunge to a leaguewide embrace of social justice causes, but the dip has had an impact even if there is no clear-cut explanation. Long-held fears among N.B.A. traditionalists that the viewing audience will inevitably shrink after July appear to have been validated.
Why 72 games? I can assure you it was not just some random number pulled out of the sky. Seventy-two is an oddly specific number as well, which makes one presume the NBA did a lot of work to arrive at that figure. From a TV perspective, 72 games are just enough to satisfy the regional sports network contracts that provide local TV revenue for each team (most specify either 65 or 70 games), but still short enough to get the season banged out between Christmas and the beginning of May.
The second reason for the shift in attitudes flows out of the first: If next season is going to be financially difficult too, better to do it sooner rather than later and get back on a traditional schedule for the next season. Just rip the bandaid off. The idea is to have the 2021-22 season be the “return to normal” in the sense of a regular timeline for the season and full buildings. One thing the NBA came away with from the bubble is that the league does not want to play into the fall and go up against the NFL and college football again. Ratings were way down for the NBA Finals. While there were a lot of factors in that — the nation focused on an intense presidential and national election, more competing sports, the coronavirus shifting people’s priorities — league officials came out of it wanting to get back to a more traditional October-to-June schedule with the draft in late June and free agency in July.
According to industry sources, it has become an agonizing issue for Silver after the NBA Finals ratings’ collapse. Silver has talked about less messaging on jerseys and the court next season. One source said: “It’s a balancing act for Adam. When you’re balancing, sometimes you fall.’’
The NBA Finals ended with another low rating, but nonetheless put up a stronger fight against Sunday Night Football than the previous week. Sunday’s clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals (Lakers-Heat) averaged a 4.2 rating and 8.29 million viewers on ABC, marking the lowest rated and least-watched Finals clincher on record. Ratings fell 61% and viewership 56% from last year’s Game 6, a close game that took place in June and did not face NFL competition (Raptors-Warriors: 10.7, 18.76M).
While the coverage might make one believe that the NBA suffered a sharper ratings drop than any other league, the numbers tell a different story. The 2020 NBA Playoffs averaged 3.04 million viewers across ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV (83 telecasts), down 37% from last year, when the postseason took place as scheduled in April, May and June (4.83M). The 37 percent decline is in line with the broader trend facing the sports industry since the wave of cancellations and postponements in March. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs declined an almost identical 38% across NBC’s TV and digital platforms (from 1.53M to 953K) and the MLB Division Series sank 40% on TBS, FS1 and MLB Network (from 3.04M to 1.82M).
The six-game Lakers-Heat NBA Finals averaged 7.48 million viewers, down 49% from last year and easily the least-watched Finals on record. The previous low was 9.29 million for Spurs-Cavaliers in 2007. [Related: NBA Finals ratings improve, but still low, at series end.]
Like the playoffs as a whole, the steep drop for the Finals is in line with the industry-wide trend. Even after losing half of its year-ago audience, the Finals held up better than the Stanley Cup Final (-61%) or the final round of golf’s U.S. Open (-56%), which were similarly shifted from June to late summer.
However, people flocking to cable news might be the biggest reason based on these numbers via AP. • Fox News averaged of 4.42 million last week–up 63%. • MSNBC averaged 2.75 million last week–up 38% • CNN averaged 2.59 million last week–up 172%. The takeaway is simple: Without an election year in 2021 and with (hopefully) the pandemic becoming a thing of the past, most sports will enjoy a viewership increase in 2021.
Yes, the NBA Finals are down 48 percent from last year, but there are a number of contributing factors. The ratings purge isn’t an isolated affair. A number of observers have suggested that players speaking out on racial inequality during news conferences and kneeling for the national anthem, and the social justice messages on the back of the jerseys during the NBA’s restart have negatively affected the league’s brand and ratings. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has even been blamed for the drop in viewership because of his willingness to speak freely.
But the MLB playoffs (down 39 percent), the NFL (down 14 percent), the NHL playoffs (down 25 percent) and the Stanley Cup Finals (down 61 percent) are all experiencing ratings drops. These dips are seemingly overlooked because it doesn’t fit the narrative that a league predominantly composed of Black men raising concerns over the justice system and condemning systemic racism is bad for business.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the racial composition of the NBA’s audience for this year’s playoffs is the same as last year’s. The audience for the 2020 NBA Finals through the first four games is 45 percent white and 55 percent non-white; it was 46 percent white, 54 percent non-white in 2019. This suggests that the people claiming to be turning off their televisions because of the social justice messaging aren’t the ones tuning in regularly in the first place.
There are, however, numerous contributing factors as to why all major sports leagues are seeing a ratings drop. In unprecedented circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL were playing at the same time, giving fans a multitude of options. The NBA restart was played in the summer, which doesn’t allow for a true ratings comparison of prior years because the league typically concludes in June. And it’s an intense election year in which the president was hospitalized with the coronavirus, which dominated the news cycle.
Game 4 saw the audience rise to 7.54 million viewers, which was ahead of Game’s 3’s 5.94 million viewers. The Game 3 number set a new low since finals ratings were recorded in 1984, according to Sports Media Watch.
Perhaps sparked by the Heat’s upset in Game 3, Game 4 was the most-watched of the series, which the Lakers now lead 3-1. Game 5 is Friday. The first three games each set futility records. There were a total of 6.6 million viewers for Game 2, which broke the Game 1 record low of 7.4 million. ESPN/ABC did not respond to a request for comment.
According to sources, commissioner Adam Silver still is surprised at the low audience with LeBron James chasing his fourth title at age 35. Silver is aiming for next year’s NBA Finals to not compete in the crowded sports month of October.
In the latest TV ratings, ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night averaged 5.3 million total viewers and a 1.9 demo rating, up sharply from Game 3‘s fast nationals (4 mil/1.5) to mark the championship series’ best preliminary numbers since its Sept. 30 tipoff. NBC’s Weakest Link (4.7 mil/0.8) dropped from last week’s pre-debate premiere yet still led Tuesday’s non-NBA fare in both measures. Leading out of that, Ellen’s Game of Games returned to 3.5 mil/0.6, while Transplant (3.1 mil/0.4) dipped from its previous outing.
he result? This year’s NBA Finals are competing for eyeballs with the NFL, college football, and MLB playoffs. ABC’s Game 3 coverage went up against NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” with predictable results. “Going up head-to-head with the NFL and MLB postseason is a first — and the competition has had a negative effect on audience delivery,” Adgate said.
As one source put, it might not have been realistic for ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports’ TNT to expect normal NBA playoff numbers during an abnormal time. “We’re tipping off playoff games at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. This schedule was not made for ratings; it was built for health and safety,” he said.
Nobody anticipated good ratings for a fanless, football season NBA Finals, but this year’s series is thus far underperforming the lowest expectations. Sunday’s Lakers-Heat NBA Finals Game 3 averaged a 3.1 rating and 5.94 million viewers, marking the lowest rated and least-watched NBA Finals game on record. The previous low was set two nights earlier by Game 2, which averaged a 3.6 and 6.61 million. The low before that was set by last Wednesday’s Game 1, which as previously reported drew a 4.1 and 7.41 million.
Prior to this year, the record-lows were a 5.2 and 8.06 million for Nets-Spurs Game 2 in 2003. [Related: NBA Finals ratings history] Miami’s Game 3 win marked the first NBA Finals game to ever air on an NFL Sunday. It was dominated by NBC’s Sunday Night Football (Eagles-49ers), which won the head-to-head by 171% in ratings (8.4 to 3.1) and 180% in viewership (15.08 to 5.94M). In the key young adult demographics, SNF won by 105% in adults 18-49 (4.5 to 2.2) and a comparably modest 65% in adults 18-34 (3.4 to 2.0).
After a regular season and playoffs marked by declines, the NBA Finals opened with its worst-ever performance in the ratings. Wednesday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals (Heat-Lakers) averaged a 4.1 rating and 7.41 million viewers on ABC, comfortably the lowest rated and least-watched NBA Finals game on record (dates back to 1988). The previous lows were a 5.2 and 8.06 million for Nets-Spurs Game 2 in 2003. [Related: NBA Finals ratings history.]
As goes without saying, it was also the least-watched Finals opener on record. The previous low was 9.21 million for Cavaliers-Spurs in 2007. The Lakers’ easy win, in which they led by as many as 32, sank 48% in ratings and 45% in viewership from Warriors-Raptors last year (7.9, 13.38M) and 59% and 58% respectively from Cavaliers-Warriors in 2018 (10.0, 17.67M), which aired as scheduled in late May.
Let’s start with the headline: All together, East and West, these were two of the least-watched conference finals series ever, despite featuring the league’s most famous player (LeBron James) on the league’s most famous franchise (the Lakers). It happened despite Nielsen using “Out of Home” viewership for the first time ever at the start of September, which likely goosed NBA numbers between seven and 12 percent. Note: Don’t expect sports leagues to tell you about OOH viewership ratings inflation when they all boast about rising ratings next season.
The declines are steep and the lows historic, but all is not lost as the NBA enters the final chapter of its protracted season. The NBA conference finals averaged approximately 4.18 million viewers across ESPN and TNT, down 35% from last year (6.42M) and the smallest audience for the round since at least 2007. The 11 games played this year rank among the 14 least-watched conference final games since 2007, joining Raptors-Bucks Game 2 last year (4.39M) and Games 1 and 2 of Spurs-Grizzlies in 2013 (4.85 and 4.62M).
If low by conference final standards, the games held up well by most others. Saturday’s clinching Nuggets-Lakers Game 5 was the weekend’s highest rated and most-watched non-NFL sporting event with a 2.4 and 4.79 million viewers on TNT, easily winning a crowded head-to-head against college football (Florida State-Miami: 1.6, 2.95M; Alabama-Missouri: 1.15, 2.09M) and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final (1.5, 2.71M).
Heat-Celtics Game 5 the previous night averaged a 2.35 and 4.37 million on ESPN, down 38% and 37% respectively from last year (Raptors-Bucks: 3.8, 6.23M), but still the night’s top television program on any network in viewership and the key adult demographics. As one would expect, the games were the two least-watched conference final Game 5s since 2007 (Jazz-Spurs: 3.97M). Still, they helped the NBA top the charts in adults 18-49 for the 25th and 26th time in 35 nights this postseason. The number of nightly wins rises to 30 among men 18-49.
Ben Cafardo: ESPN's coverage of @NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 - #Celtics vs #Heat - was the most-watched program across all of TV for Sat, Sept 19 (Nielsen). TelevisionMobile phone It generated 3,810,000 viewers, peaking w/4,316,000 viewers. Heavy check markAlso the most-watched program in the male/adult demos.
Even a buzzer-beating Laker win could not keep NBA ratings afloat opposite Sunday Night Football. Airing directly opposite NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals (Nuggets-Lakers) averaged a 1.75 rating and 3.17 million viewers on TNT — marking the league’s smallest conference final audience since Pistons-Nets Game 4 on ESPN in 2003 (2.72M). No other conference final game since at least 2001 has averaged fewer viewers.
Both games declined considerably from last year, with Game 2 down 63% in ratings and 60% in viewership from Blazers-Warriors on a Thursday night in May last year (4.7, 7.88M). Friday’s drop was not as severe, but ratings still fell 42% and viewership a third from last year’s Tuesday night opener (4.5, 7.32M).
Tuesday’s Nuggets-Clippers second round NBA playoff Game 7 averaged 5.23 million viewers on ESPN, marking the largest audience of the playoffs on cable and the second-largest across all networks. ABC averaged 5.43 million for Rockets-Lakers Game 2 over Labor Day weekend. Denver’s upset win delivered cable’s third-largest live sports audience since the NFL Draft in April, behind only the previous night’s NFL doubleheader on ESPN (Steelers-Giants: 10.76M; Titans-Broncos: 7.70M). Outside of the NFL, it was the most-watched live sporting event on cable since the NBA All-Star Game in February (7.23M).
Earlier Tuesday, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals (Heat-Celtics) averaged 4.01 million, marking the least-watched conference final game since 2007 (Jazz-Spurs Game 5: 3.97M). The 6:30 PM ET start time — the earliest for any weekday conference final game in recent memory — provides an obvious caveat.
Viewership fell 27% from Game 1 of last year’s East Finals on TNT, which began two hours later (Raptors-Bucks: 5.49M), and 44% from Game 1 in 2018 — a Sunday afternoon game on broadcast television (Cavaliers-Celtics: 7.22M).
Going back to the weekend, ESPN averaged a 1.9 rating and 3.72 million viewers for Rockets-Lakers Game 5 on Saturday night and a mere 0.8 and 1.30 million for Clippers-Nuggets Game 6 on Sunday afternoon. The latter ranks as the least-watched second round playoff game in at least a decade, with the caveat that it aired opposite NFL games.
If not the ratings draw one would expect in a normal year, Celtics-Raptors Game 7 still delivered cable’s best sports audience in months. Friday’s Celtics-Raptors second round NBA playoff Game 7 averaged 4.69 million viewers on TNT, marking the largest audience for any sporting event on cable since the NFL Draft in April. The previous high was 4.65 million for Lakers-Rockets Game 3 on TNT last week.
Tim Reynolds: Game 7 of Raptors-Celtics reached just over 6 million Canadians watchng on TV, the highest reach of any 2020 NBA Playoff game. (There's like 37 million Canadians, so like 1 out of every 6 of them watched some of that game.) #TheyTheNorth
It took a major hit in the ratings, but Lakers-Rockets still put up the strongest competition against the NFL Kickoff Game in a decade. Thursday’s Lakers-Rockets second round NBA playoff Game 4 averaged 2.50 million viewers on TNT, marking the most-watched sporting event opposite the NFL Kickoff Game in a decade — since an Auburn-Mississippi State college football game on ESPN in 2010 (2.81M).
As one would expect, the Lakers’ win was trounced by the competing NFL game, which averaged 19.3 million viewers (not including out-of-home viewership). It ranked a distant second on a crowded sports night that also included the US Open women’s semifinals on ESPN (1.55M) and the NHL Western Conference Final on NBCSN (790K). Viewership sank an unsurprising 44% from the comparable Thursday window of last year’s postseason, which did not face any notable competition (Raptors-Sixers Game 6: 4.48M). The closest comparison from last year’s playoffs would be Nuggets-Spurs Game 6 in the first round, which aired opposite night one of the NFL Draft and averaged 1.80 million on TNT.
Game 4 was the least-watched Laker game of the playoffs, not just owing to the competition but also to a special 7 PM ET start time — or 4 PM in Los Angeles. Every other Laker game this postseason averaged at least 2.9 million and the three previous games of the Rockets series each topped four million.
In other action, Wednesday’s double-overtime Raptors-Celtics Game 6 averaged 3.43 million viewers on ESPN, the most-watched game of the playoffs that did not start in primetime or air on broadcast television (37 total games). Game 5 averaged 2.71 million on TNT Labor Day, down 27% from Bucks-Celtics Game 4 in a similar window last year (3.72M).
Clippers-Nuggets Game 4 averaged 2.98 million in Wednesday’s nightcap, down 39% from Celtics-Bucks Game 5 in a similar window last year (4.87M). Game 3 averaged 3.45 million on Monday, down 50% from Warriors-Rockets Game 4 in a similar slot last year (6.97M).
The Lakers’ win, which peaked with 7.01 million viewers from 10:45-11 PM ET, also ranks as the fourth-most watched sporting event since the NFL Draft — behind the previous day’s Kentucky Derby (9.26M), NASCAR’s return at Darlington (6.32M) and the golf exhibition “The Match” (5.67M).
Ratings increased 16% and viewership 34% from a similar Sunday night window on TNT last year (Nuggets-Blazers Game 4: 2.5, 4.06M). Compared to ABC’s lone primetime second round game last year, Warriors-Rockets Game 3 on a Saturday, ratings fell 34% (from 4.4) and viewership 25% (from 7.23M). Compared to the same Labor Day weekend window last year, ratings and viewership were off slightly from ABC’s Houston-Oklahoma college football game (3.0, 5.44M) — though the NBA performed significantly better in adults 18-34 (1.7 to 1.1), 18-49 (2.0 to 1.5) and 25-54 (2.2 to 1.9).
Ben Cafardo: 🏀ABC's broadcast of #Lakers #Rockets GM2 on Sunday generated 5,432,000 viewers, peaking w/ 7,012,000 viewers from 1045-11PM ET. (Nielsen) ✔️Most-watched 2020 #NBAPlayoffs broadcast. ✔️Most-watched TV program in M18-34 demo since the finale of The Last Dance on ESPN (May 17).
Ratings around the world were also helped by Luka Doncic’s transcendent run for the Dallas Mavericks. For his first two seeding games, ratings in Spain— where Luka played for Real Madrid before coming to the NBA— were up 172% over the regular season average. And when Doncic hit the game-winner in overtime at the buzzer in Game 4 of Dallas first round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers to complete a 43-point triple-double, the video highlight generated more than 1.8 million views on NBA Spain’s Twitter account.
Last week was an “Ooh la la!” moment for the NBA and other TV shows because their viewership metrics changed quite favorably. For the first time ever, Nielsen incorporated “out of home” viewership (OOH) into the overall ratings, a boost that was projected to add between 7 to 11 percent to the overall numbers. Traditionally, only TVs in households counted towards the overall numbers. Now, TVs in hospitals, airports, restaurants and offices count as well. This is largely why viewership on games and cable news shows suddenly shot up in the first week of September. We’ve finally shifted from mph to kph.
So, there was an initial sticker shock when I checked the new numbers last week. Not only did the NBA finally crack the 4 million viewer mark with its Rockets-Thunder Game 7, but a variety of cable news shows were suddenly up huge. The actual boost in OOH viewership is something of a mystery right now, but that 11 percent upper-bound projection might be conservative. It’s difficult to make a comparison for the NBA games, since both Game 7s happened after OOH, but a few cable news shows are now doing monster numbers, even though they were projected to merely gain 7 percent in a pre-pandemic time, according to Scott Brown, Nielsen’s head of TV and audio products.
Viewership increased 17% over the comparable window of last year’s playoffs, Game 2 of a Blazers-Nuggets second round series on TNT (3.51M). Last year’s game aired exclusively on TNT, while this year’s game co-existed with RSN coverage in both Houston and Oklahoma City. The other first round Game 7 was less of a draw. Jazz-Nuggets averaged 3.39 million on ABC Tuesday night, down 24% from the comparable window on TNT last year (Celtics-Bucks: 4.45M) and ABC’s least-watched Game 7 since Bucks-Hawks on a Sunday afternoon in 2010 (3.06M). It also delivered the second-smallest primetime playoff audience ever on ABC, ahead of Celtics-Pacers Game 3 on a Friday last year (2.72M).
A new Harris Poll backs Trump’s critique of the NBA, with 39% of sports fans saying they are watching fewer games. And the chief reason why? Politics. The longtime polling agency surveyed nearly 2,000 people over the weekend and gave those who identified as sports fans—two-thirds of the total—ten options to choose from on why they are watching less basketball.
“The league has become too political” was the clear choice, with 38% of respondents who identified themselves as sports fans. “Boring without fans” captured 28% of the vote while the NBA’s association with China caused 19% of sports fans to turn the dial, another nod to a league Trump labeled a “political organization” last week after players boycotted games in response to a police officer shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
While 39% of sports fans say they are watching fewer games, 32% answered they are consuming more basketball this summer (28% say the same amount). Harris did not ask those fans why they were watching more.
Anthony Crupi: As it stands right now, television viewing is down eight percent year over year for the summer season. It’s down 19 percent for broadcast television. For the 18 to 49 demo, which if we are being honest is who the NBA and pretty much everybody else who advertises is interested in, that’s down 36 percent. In the last four years, TV as a whole has lost 52 percent of its target audience. It’s just gone — and it’s not coming back. So the NBA came back against all that and it is down year over year. It’s definitely doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that people should in any way be concerned about because what we’re talking about is very limited ratings. The numbers don’t get scale until you get to the conference championship series and the NBA Finals.
Austin Karp: I think Anthony hit on a lot of great points there. If I had to describe it at the macro level, I’d say the NBA is down right now but not out for sure. A couple years ago, when the Warriors were hitting on all cylinders, some people we’re talking like, “Oh, the NBA? When are they going to overtake the NFL?” Now we’re talking about the NBA like it’s the Titanic. We have to find some sort of happy medium there and that’s usually where the truth lies. The NBA ratings are down year over year. I think they were down 12 percent headed into the All-Star break. So being down right now, it was something we expected. A lot of the networks were backloading their schedule with Lakers and LeBron (James) games. They did not get that so they couldn’t close the gap on that.
Without that deal and its years of guaranteed income, it will be harder for the league to keep the lights on in the event that 2020-21 has no fans. There’s one big issue, though. The desperate need for a new national TV deal comes at the exact moment that viewership interest in the league has cratered. Not merely ebbed. Not subsided a bit in accordance to what one might expect with “cord cutting.” No, the NBA has fallen to a new viewership low perhaps not seen since the 1980s. Here’s one, yet to be publicized stat to know: 45 percent. As in the league’s ABC games, its premium broadcast, are down a whopping 45 percent off what the NBA averaged back in 2011-12. In that hastily promoted lockout season, ABC games drew 5.42 million viewers on average. The final tally on this latest 2019-20 season was 2.95 million average viewers on ABC games. Every ABC game from 2011-2012 received higher viewership than 2.95 million, save for a meaningless late season 1 p.m. Thunder-Bulls game that Derrick Rose sat out.
Among sports shows, PTI had the highest average (Thursday and Friday) at just 337,000 viewers, via ShowBuzzDaily. ESPN’s second and third most popular programs, First Take and Around the Horn, drew 265,500 and 202,500, respectively. Other averages included Get Up — 223,500; The Jump — 180,500; Highly Questionable —188,500; Jalen & Jacoby — 168,000; Undisputed —134,000; Speak for Yourself — 64,000. At the same time last year, with no NBA games, the programs fared far better. For comparison, the top-rated show, PTI, is down from a 568,500 average. Its decline is comparable to other measured sports programming.

http://twitter.com/dhookstead/status/1292076169223909378
"The ratings for the basketball are way down, as you know," Trump said. "I hear some others are way down, including baseball. We have stand up for our flag, stand up for our country. A lot of people agree with me. If I'm wrong, I'm going to lose an election. That's okay with me. I will always stand for our flag." Trump also addressed Black Lives Matter, comparing himself to former president Abraham Lincoln. "Black Lives Matter," he said. "Nobody has done better for our Black community than me. Nobody. With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln; it's true. Criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, best employment numbers in history. Again, nobody has done for the black community – by far. I'll give the one exception: Abraham Lincoln."
"The world will be watching," President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said Tuesday in a 40-minute Zoom conference with media members. "We're probably going to have some of the highest TV ratings we've ever had. I can feel in the air there's a pent-up demand for our sport, and sports in general. "You go from apprehension on one end of the pendulum to excitement at the other end," Pritchard added. "(We're) getting excited to go play basketball and we look at this as a unique experience. I'm hopeful this is the only one we ever have to do."
Which NBA local broadcast do you watch most often? Of the 840 responses we received from the survey of our subscribers, the broadcasts that were represented the most when it comes to viewing were the Minnesota Timberwolves (9.3 percent) and Toronto Raptors (9.0 percent). The New York Knicks (7.3 percent) and Golden State Warriors (also 7.3 percent) were the next highest volume on this survey. The Philadelphia 76ers (5.7 percent), Brooklyn Nets (4.9 percent), Boston Celtics (4.9 percent), Chicago Bulls (3.8 percent), Los Angeles Lakers (3.6 percent), and Milwaukee Bucks (3.6 percent) all rounded out the top 5 for local broadcasts our subscribers watch the most.
As most League Pass obsessives would guess, the Brooklyn Nets (+147) and New York Knicks (106) had the two most loved broadcasts. These are a little bit of a cheat code for MSG (Knicks) and YES (Nets) because they attract arguably the two best play-by-play announcers in the NBA. The Nets have Ian Eagle doing the majority of the broadcasts for their local viewings, when he isn’t off filling in NBA games on TNT, college basketball and NFL on CBS, or The French Open for the Tennis Channel. The Knicks have Mike Breen doing the majority of their local broadcasts when ABC and ESPN don’t tear him away for nationally televised games.
The Portland Trail Blazers (+56) crew of Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd came in third among all broadcast teams. Back in 2016, the Blazers had some controversy firing the locally beloved crew of Mike Barrett and Mike Rice. They were homers and their broadcasts were a bit zanier than you might hope for if you were an outsider looking in. But the Blazers fans seemed to love them. That made the entrance of Calabro and Hurd pretty rocky and not totally welcome. But Calabro has been one of the best in the business for a long time, going from Seattle SuperSonics broadcasts with Steve “Snapper” Jones to national games with ESPN. Hurd joined the team after years of PAC-12 broadcasts. You also can’t forget sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam, who brings a lot of information, energy, and fun into the mix.
Netflix says overseas hoops fans flocked in huge numbers to “The Last Dance,” the documentary series about Michael Jordan and the ’90s Chicago Bulls team, which has been a ratings smash in the U.S. for ESPN. Netflix tweeted the numbers Wednesday, claiming that 23.8 million households outside the U.S. checked out “The Last Dance” in its first four weeks on the service. “23 was always his lucky number!” the streamer said, referencing Jordan’s jersey number. But some big caveats are in order — Netflix’s selectively reported viewing figures aren’t comparable to TV ratings. The streamer bases its publicly reported audience metrics based on how many member accounts watched a given show or movie for a minimum of just 2 minutes — an in-house calculation the company claims is a better reflection of popularity than average time spent viewing, which is how the television world measures viewership.
ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” has overtaken Netflix Inc.’s “Tiger King” as the most in-demand documentary in the world, a boost for the cable giant at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has shut down live sports and slashed its audience ratings. “The Last Dance” was one of the 20 most in-demand shows in the world this week, according to Parrot Analytics, a research firm that tracks audience interest using data that includes social-media conversations and piracy. The show is even more popular in the U.S., where it ranked as 11th this week.
CBS' Masters rewind drew 2.2 million viewers, virtual racing started off strong but has since lost steam, and ESPN's H.O.R.S.E. challenge drew just 686,000 viewers.
The first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series about legendary guard Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, attracted the most viewers for a documentary in ESPN history, the network announced Monday. The two 60-minute episodes that aired Sunday night averaged 6.1 million viewers, according to ESPN. The first episode averaged 6.3 million between 9-10 p.m. ET, and the second averaged 5.8 million between 10-11 p.m. ET. According to ESPN, its “You Don’t Know Bo” on former two-sport star Bo Jackson was the previous most-watched documentary on its airwaves. That film averaged 3.6 million viewers in 2012.
The first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series about legendary guard Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, attracted the most viewers for a documentary in ESPN history, the network announced Monday. The two 60-minute episodes that aired Sunday night averaged 6.1 million viewers, according to ESPN. The first episode averaged 6.3 million between 9-10 p.m. ET, and the second averaged 5.8 million between 10-11 p.m. ET. According to ESPN, its “You Don’t Know Bo” on former two-sport star Bo Jackson was the previous most-watched documentary on its airwaves. That film averaged 3.6 million viewers in 2012.
Last year’s Big3 championship game averaged a 0.48 rating and 674,000 viewers on CBS, down 31% in ratings and 33% in viewership following a 0.7 rating and 1 million viewers for the 2018 championship game on Fox. “CBS Sports was a remarkable partner for the BIG3 last season as we were able to take the league to a whole new level and reach new fans globally, utilizing CBS’ unmatched broadcast team and production, and we’re thrilled to bring the BIG3 back to their airwaves in 2020,” said BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube.
Meanwhile, the NBA says that 35% of its single-game NBA League Pass purchases now come from Latin America. Partnerships with the Novo Basquete Brasil and NBA regular season games played in Mexico have also boosted fan engagement. Mexico City additionally will soon be home to an NBA G League team beginning this fall.
Local ratings for 27 of the NBA’s 30 teams (with the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, and Toronto Raptors not included) are in at the league’s All-Star Break, and the news is not very good for the Association. According to the ratings data compiled by the Sports Business Journal, those 27 teams are down 13% on their local RSNs, with 14 of the 27 experiencing declines in viewership. This news follows a similar trend to the national landscape, where ratings have dropped by 12%, from 10% on ESPN to to 13% on TNT and 16% on ABC.
Those numbers correlate with the NBA hosting more competitive events while honoring Kobe Bryant, who died three weeks ago along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash. Although average viewership across ABC, ESPN and TNT have suffered a 13-percent decrease this season, the NBA experienced other relative improvements in recent months. Average viewership on ESPN and TNT increased by a combined six percent in December. Those viewers then increased by an average of 27 percent on ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in January.
Those numbers have not entirely offset the NBA’s declining television rating stemminged from either cord-cutting, downgraded cable packages and extensive injuries to the league’s star players. But those numbers left the NBA feeling validated on downplaying the league’s early-season bumps. “We may be affected by it a little bit more on properties because we have such a young fanbase,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a press conference during All-Star weekend. “But I am very confident we can work through it.”
“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.” The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.
Yes, we’ve been over the ratings decline, but the situation hasn’t improved since the Sports Business Journal collected and posted data on Dec. 2. Those in the know at ESPN confirm that the more recent numbers have been brutal, save for a Lakers-Bucks game that drew interest. Maybe this is a one-season drop, mostly related to the Warriors’ gap year, but what if the NBA can’t correct course soon? Well, that has big implications for the main source of league revenue.
Not exactly, as these deals are negotiated far, far in advance. This means the NBA is running out of time to argue that it’s on an upward swing to prospective buyers. Beyond that, it looks like the upcoming TV rights market is not as favorable as it was in 2014. For instance, in a shocker, ESPN/ABC won out over CBS for SEC football rights. This could not have been taken as good news at the NBA’s league office back in New York. Not only has ESPN/ABC committed billions to a non-NBA product, depleting its reserves, but the move also makes the cable channel less dependent on NBA programming.
Do you think an in-season tournament is an interesting media property? Jalen Rose: I think it is something that can get eyeballs instead of possibly getting them during Christmas or Thanksgiving. I think always making the fan believe that the player is invested in tonight’s game especially early in the season means something. I understand it from that perspective. I don’t think necessarily players will take as much pride in it as winning championships. I applaud the best players for being about the big goal. I sort of blame media and fans for making it only about ring chasing. So now we count rings instead of appreciating greatness, which are two different things.
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Avery Bradley given impression he'll have real chance to make Warriors roster

Avery Bradley is coming off a couple of down seasons but was one of the league’s stingiest individual defenders earlier in his career, and he’s only 30. He’s been given the impression, per a source, that he will have a real chance to make the roster and, with Thompson out early in the season, there’s a clear path to playing time if he rediscovers his old form, which would catapult him back onto the market next summer.
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