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.
Jalen Rose: So players are like, wait a minute, you don’t care if I play in November? You don’t care if I play for Team USA? All you want me to do is win championships? Okay, cool. Not only are we going to join up together, but I’m going to take nights off during the regular season to make sure I’m ready to go in the playoffs because that’s all you care about. I can have a great game in January and all you guys do is say well it’s not the playoffs. Then you have my numbers so analytics are going to run the game. OK, so I get a bonus based on making 40 percent of my threes or having low turnovers. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to shoot when I’m wide open and I’m not going to take chances with the ball. Players have gotten very intelligent that they now understand the pulse of the people and that people don’t necessarily always root for individual teams. They root for players. Players now realize I can have longevity in my career and make more money. Plus, put myself in a position not to have rivals and to win rings.
Jalen Rose: When the best players are in California — LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George — the East Coast fans aren’t staying up till twelve o’clock to watch the fourth quarter. On the East Coast, I mentioned the two big guns for the Nets that are not playing and the Knicks have already fired their coach. So when all of those things are happening at the same time, there’s going to be a dip in viewership. There are more reasons, but I think that that’s the major one. I think if all of those situations are hitting on all cylinders, the viewership is as outstanding as it’s been.
The Los Angeles Clippers unwrapped a win against the rival Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night on ABC, topping Christmas Day in ratings. The primetime showdown earned a 1.8 rating in the 18-49 demographic and 5.67 million viewers and aired on ABC and ESPN, the capper to five NBA games that aired on Christmas Day.
Doug Smith: PR from ESPN just e-mails to say Raptors-Celtics drew more than 3.3 million viewers for them yesterday, up 4% from noon Christmas Day 2018 game that was Bucks-Knicks. So that's good, right? No local numbers on Sportsnet that I've seen yet
Of the marquee games that TNT (15) and ESPN (27) have aired, TNT had nine and ESPN had 12 that featured at least one star player out with an injury. TNT has completed only a fraction of its telecasts for the Lakers (one of 11), Clippers (three of 11) and Rockets (one of 10), three teams that still attract consistent viewership. ESPN/ABC has done the same thing with the Lakers, (six of 19), Clippers (seven of 16) and Rockets (four of 15). In related news, the NBA suffered a 17% ratings decline on both their ESPN and TNT telecasts compared to last season.
Mark Cuban: Ratings are down because all of our national broadcasts are exclusively available on cable, which is losing subs daily. Football benefits from being on broadcast tv which is in every digital and traditional package along with gambling available in some of the biggest markets
On a semi-related note, the NBA and its broadcast partners -- ESPN included -- have recently discussed the possibility and feasibility of more aggressively "flexing" out scheduled national TV games that do not look as appealing in light of injuries and team performance, sources said. Some mega-teams -- the Lakers, for example -- will never be flexed regardless of injury. On some national TV nights, there are few alternatives on the schedule.
With NBA national TV ratings struggling again early, the league should consider some radical ideas to better position itself in the marketplace. One thought that has been broached in league circles, according to sources, would be to move the start of the schedule back to closer to Thanksgiving or, even more drastically, Christmas, in combination with a potential reduction from 82 games and some sort of in-season tournament.
A target date to institute this new thinking could be 2021-22 when the NBA celebrates its 75th season. It would make sense to potentially move to a 75-game season and introduce the still-to-be-determined tournament at that point. There are financial and scheduling issues that would have to be considered. Would the owners and players be willing to reduce revenue with fewer games? Would they be able to structure the season to have the Finals still finish in June? Would they be amenable to having the championship in July or even August?
TNT averaged a 0.6 rating and 909,000 viewers for Mavericks-Knicks and a 0.49 and 766,000 for Nets-Nuggets Thursday, marking the network’s sixth-straight NBA games with fewer than a million viewers. Including ESPN, nine games have failed to crack the million viewer mark thus far, compared to 19 all of last season. Ratings fell 22% and viewership 18% for New York’s win (vs. Rockets-Thunder: 0.7, 1.12M); Denver’s win sank 51% in both measures (vs. Bucks-Warriors: 1.0, 1.57M). Eight of ten TNT games have declined from last year.
Ben Fischer: WarnerMedia Chair Jeff Zucker on NBA ratings weakness this season: “I think the combination of injuries and sitting out has been an issue, and I think that’s concern, and hopefully that will get addressed over time.... "I think the league has some influence over teams and i would like them to exert that influence." WarnerMedia Chair Jeff Zucker on load management in the NBA. #SBJSMT
NBA officials said while they had buy-in from the networks for placing the Raptors on Opening Night and Christmas, overall the league wanted the Raptors on national TV more than either network wanted to have them.
TNT and ESPN don’t even broadcast in Canada. They do not get the benefit of access to the largest swath of Raptors fans — Canadians. The Raptors, by the way, could still be a very good team in the East this season, but from a ratings standpoint, they do not have a star like Leonard nor are they expected to repeat as champs. That’s the problem. “What a lot of people like to cling to is because the Raptors don’t play in the United States, it makes them ratings challenged,” Vertino said. “But my argument would be they’re a compelling team and they play a great and exciting brand of basketball, and to me, maybe we can flip it and say, ‘Maybe we can open some more eyes here that weren’t going to watch in the first place. They’re on this platform for a reason.’”
1. The 2019 WNBA Finals showcased the best of the league — superb playmaking, athleticism and taut competition. The series between the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun extended to a full five games before Washington claimed the franchise’s first title. So how was the viewership for the series? Very disappointing, especially given the quality of the games. Game 5 of the WNBA Finals between the Mystics and Sun averaged 440,000 viewers on ESPN2. That was down from last year’s Storm-Mystics clinching Game 3 (519,000 on ESPN2) and down 51 percent from the 2017 clincher (907,000 on ESPN).
Per Sports Media Watch: The five-game Finals averaged 381,000 viewers on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, the least-watched Finals since 2013 (Minnesota-Atlanta averaged 315,000). Viewership declined 21 percent from last year’s Storm-Mystics sweep (481,000) and 32 percent from the Lynx-Sparks in 2017 (559,000).
The annual speech isn’t available to the public, so it tends to contain franker messaging than you might find in Adam Silver’s news conferences. This year was no exception. While the NBA has publicly indicated that there’s been a dropoff in ratings, that message gets conveyed with subtlety. In person, with the coaches, Silver was blunt, according to sources at the meeting. Viewership is down, said the commissioner, down so significantly that he badly needs the help of the men present. They must do what it takes to aid the occasionally intrusive TV broadcasts, even if that means going outside their comfort zones.
One of the specific challenges for the NBA this year — which meant a significant task for Carelli and his crew — was to attack the decline in viewership from last season. Regular-season game telecasts across ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV in 2018-19 averaged 1.2 million viewers, down 5 percent from the previous season. (NBA games were still up 3 percent from two seasons ago.) Particularly problematic was the viewership of the early windows of NBA national TV doubleheaders. Last year, per Sports Business Daily, TNT saw a 23 percent drop in viewership for the early windows in a doubleheader. ESPN had an 11 percent drop in the early window for its doubleheader games.
“Overall, it’s an acknowledgement by the NBA that their prime-time telecasts have to be seen where the viewers are to maximize ratings and media revenues — and that means viewers in the Central and Eastern time zones,” said longtime sports TV consultant Lee Berke, who has clients across NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, NHL and NASCAR.
Over recent weekends, BIG3 games averaged a 0.5 rating on the CBS broadcast network. That’s not great. But close to the 0.7 rating and 1 million viewers it drew for its second championship game in 2018. The deal with CBS is only for the 2019 season. But Kwatinetz is thrilled to be in business with CBS, America’s most-watched TV network.
The good news for BIG3? A league consisting of grizzled 30 and 40-something players, some with greybeards, has become surprisingly popular with millennials and Generation Z, both on TV and social media. Now BIG3’s eyeing events in China and countries where basketball is growing. “It is amazing when you think about it. We have the oldest players — and the youngest audience,” Kwatinetz said.
The NBA’s television doldrums so far this season are happening at the local level, too, where regional sports network ratings from 28 U.S.-based teams had dropped 10 percent on average at the All-Star break compared to the same point last year. Overall, most of the country’s RSNs have posted ratings gains this season; 15 have seen TV ratings increases in the first part of the season, and 13 have seen TV ratings decreases. (Information for Memphis and Toronto was not available at press time.) But it was the size of the decreases — and the big markets where they occurred — that caused the overall RSN average to drop by double digits through Feb. 12.
According to Nielsen, the Mavericks enjoyed the highest regional TV ratings surge in the NBA this season. Dallas' 86 percent increases in viewership and ratings from last season to this season on Fox Sports Southwest surpassed No. 2 Denver's 77 percent increases. The average rating of Mavericks games on FSSW increased from 0.7 to 1.3. The numbers no doubt are a reflection of local excitement generated by the addition and play of rookie Luka Doncic, as well as late-season interest in the final games of Dirk Nowitzki's illustrious 21-season career.
TV ratings for games are down this season. The All-Star Game ratings were down. Silver said the league is struggling to reach the millions of fans from the target age 18-34 demographic who don't have cable or streaming packages. They care about the league but don't build the habit of watching games on TV or in person, a core tenet of creating revenue. "You see a tweet saying, 'Warriors-Rockets great matchup, Harden is going for 60.' The fact [is] you can't just [click] and get that game," Silver said. "That transactional friction has to be eliminated. We're being paid a lot of money to gate our content right now [by TV partners]. What's happening is demand and supply aren't meeting."
he NBA’s television doldrums so far this season are happening at the local level, too, where regional sports network ratings from 28 U.S.-based teams had dropped 10 percent on average at the All-Star break compared to the same point last year. Overall, most of the country’s RSNs have posted ratings gains this season; 15 have seen TV ratings increases in the first part of the season, and 13 have seen TV ratings decreases. (Information for Memphis and Toronto was not available at press time.)
The drop-off is most pronounced in some of the league’s biggest markets, like New York (down 41 percent on MSG Network), Chicago (down 36 percent on NBC Sports Chicago) and Boston (down 27 percent on NBC Sports Boston). Ratings for Bulls games in Chicago are at their lowest point in at least 13 years as the team has struggled on the court with one of the NBA’s worst records.
More than halfway through the regular season, NBA ratings have fallen. The real plummet has been on Turner, which started with a LeBron-less opening night and has been playing from behind ever since. The network is down 22 percent compared to this point last year.
ESPN is also off, but just 5 percent. ABC was up 5 percent on Christmas Day in a slate that was headlined in prime time by James’ Lakers against the Warriors. ABC tips off its weekly Saturday night coverage this weekend, which will offer a truer gauge.
The NBA feels it is on the upswing as Turner/ESPN/ABC were up 3 percent in December compared to November. Maybe this will be a trend, but so far — like the teams he plays on — the viewing might be a little too overdependent on James.
August 11, 2022 | 7:20 pm EDT Update
There is a growing belief among rival teams that Durant knew when he issued that me-or-them ultimatum that Tsai had no intention of yielding to the request and firing Marks and Nash. One resultant theory that the Durant/Tsai meeting spawned is the idea KD has begun trying to manufacture as much behind-the-scenes discord as he can in hopes that it will lead the Nets to lower their asking price and trade him out of exasperation.
Appearing on The Scoop podcast with Darren Wolfson of SKOR North and 5 Eyewitness News, Glen Taylor said new Wolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly had his eye on multiple impact trade targets, but Gobert was his “number one option.” The input of head coach Chris Finch, who expressed confidence in his ability to use Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, was also a key factor in Minnesota’s decision to pull the trigger on the blockbuster deal. “What I did when Tim and Chris talked to me about this trade is to ask (Finch) is there a system that he knows how to utilize these players,” Taylor said. “And he was very confident that he did understand how to utilize their skill sets, being two big guys. We talked about a lot, so he convinced me that this is something that is going to take us to a winning situation, and gave us the go-ahead to make the trade.”
Asked if he’d like to see D’Angelo Russell sign an extension before the season begins, Taylor said it might benefit both sides to hold off and see how the 2022/23 season goes. “(Finch) believes that with the new lineup, and with Russell in that lineup, that he’ll have a much better year just because of the way we’re going to play,” Taylor said. “He says he thinks there’s a big upside for Russell with this group of (players). That’s to his advantage and to our advantage if it works out.”
The plan remains for Taylor to hand over control of the franchise to incoming owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez in a little over a year. The Wolves’ longtime owner said he’s not having any regrets about giving up control of the team as it becomes a more legitimate contender. “No, I don’t have any second thoughts. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Taylor said. “We’ve left some options open that I’ll continue to be involved if I want to be involved, and that suits me just fine.”
“My favorite NBA player to watch besides Steph is Luka,” Green said on the latest edition of his eponymous podcast. “Luka different. I mean, the way he sees the floor, scores the basketball, gets to his spot, his pace. It’s Luka for sure.”
August 11, 2022 | 5:46 pm EDT Update
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be gathering in Los Angeles for voluntary, player-led pre-training camp workouts next week, sources tell cleveland.com. All-Star point guard Darius Garland and Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Mobley — two guys who spend time on the West Coast during the offseason — are helping organize the workouts.