Storyline: TV Ratings

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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.

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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.

As NBA teams jockey for playoff positioning, the league’s television networks have rebounded from some of their early-season ratings losses. During NBA All-Star weekend, TNT saw net improvements in Friday’s Rising Stars game (1 percent and most-watched since 2015), Saturdays’ 3-point and slam-dunk contest (one percent and most-watched since 2017) as well as Sunday’s pre-game show (6.3 million, an 19 percent increase) and the All-Star game itself (7.3 million, an eight percent increase). ESPN also experienced a nine percent increase in viewership with Friday’s All-Star celebrity game.

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.

TV ratings in bad shape

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.
1 year ago via ESPN

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.)
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April 2, 2020 | 9:36 pm EDT Update
For the time being, and likely for weeks or months to come, basketball is no longer the team’s primary public concern. “We’re trying to get ahead of the game as best we can,” Tellem said. “As part of that, it’s changing our whole public face. Usually we’re talking about upcoming games, the draft, free agency, all those things in our advertising and content online and obviously we’re now changing that content.”
The league has not made public any plans for the remainder of the season or playoffs, which were supposed to start April 18. Per a contract agreement with the league, players received paychecks April 1 despite the suspended season, but the NBA has yet to reach a long-term agreement, ESPN reported. “There will be a time, when we flatten the curve and we’re on the significant down side of the curve, that professional sports and all sports will play an important role in the healing of this country,” Tellem said.
April 2, 2020 | 8:15 pm EDT Update
P.J. Tucker will release a new limited-edition collection of clothing items next week to help promote awareness of coronavirus safety measures and raise funds for the Houston Food Bank and local businesses and vendors. Tucker announced that he and The Better Generation will make items available for a preorder through the weekend or while supplies last. The items will include long and short sleeve shirts, shorts and a baseball cap and feature COVID-19 awareness graphics.
“We all came together and said we wanted to do something positive,” Tucker said. “With so much negativity and so much stuff going on right now in the world, we wanted to do something to give back and help out. We’re doing three different shirts, three different shorts and a hat. There is a social distancing logo and messaging on the back with the logo for the store.”
April 2, 2020 | 5:36 pm EDT Update
Porter, who spent one season at Missouri, said he’s got a private gym that he can access whenever he wants. “I’ve literally been in the gym just as much as I was in Denver, which has been really good,” Porter said on Altitude’s digital show. “I feel like I haven’t really lost a lot. And it’s been good for my ankle, too, because you know my ankle was still kind of sore.”
In his downtime, he said he’s been preparing for the NBA 2K tournament that will air Friday night on ESPN. Porter, a No. 12 seed, drew No. 5 seed Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns. Booker’s a notorious gamer, but Porter liked his chances. “I’m just naturally good at 2K,” he said. “It’s kind of weird. 2K, if you’re good at actual basketball, like it translates.”
The Atlanta Hawks, through the Hawks Foundation and State Farm, are funding the preparation of 4,000 meals weekly to be delivered to the more than 1,000 frontline healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients at Emory Healthcare through a four-week pilot that is part of the newly-formed Atlanta Healthcare Heroes inaugural program. The meals are provided in partnership with two local Atlanta restaurants, which are now able to re-employ “hundreds” of workers who were recently laid off or furloughed due to the financial effects of the crisis, according to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin.
April 2, 2020 | 5:11 pm EDT Update
Although it launched last October, the Utah Jazz is using their Utah Jazz Podcast Network as an outlet for players to broaden their off-the-court reach and skills. “Our players have obviously been focused on keeping themselves healthy and making sure that their family and those close to them are healthy,” Bart Sharp, the Jazz’s senior vice president of marketing, said. “But they’ve also expressed a desire to try and provide some sense of normalcy and entertainment to our fan base during this time and wanted to find ways in which they can help people during this unique period.”
Already, some of the Jazz’s most well-known players are lending a hand to help produce content for the team. Utah rolled out its first player-specific podcast series, Ingles Insight, centered around Jazz shooting guard Joe Ingles, on March 21. The fifth-year player out of Adelaide, South Australia, is accompanied on Ingles Insight by his wife, Renae Ingles. The inaugural episode had more than 11,000 downloads in the first week, over 200 five-star reviews, and was the second-most popular basketball podcast in the United States on Apple Music, Sharp said.
Another new video podcast series hosted by Utah power forward Georges Niang, Drive and Dish, launched its first episode on Tuesday, March 31. Filmed out of Niang’s home and recorded through Zoom, Drive And Dish is described by Sharp as an “interview-style” podcast. The first episode saw Niang talk with teammate Jordan Clarkson about what is going on right now in a basketball-less world: what Clarkson is doing during the quarantine, his various tattoos, his distinct fashion taste, and other topics. After the debut of Drive And Dish, Sharp and the Jazz are preparing for another podcast series starring both Niang and Donovan Mitchell.
April 2, 2020 | 4:36 pm EDT Update
Doc Rivers wasn’t immediately impressed with Williams when the Clippers acquired him from the Houston Rockets. On Thursday’s episode of The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast, Rivers spoke about his first impressions of Williams. “When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?”
“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”
So with 19.5 seconds remaining in overtime and the Hawks trailing by seven to the New York Knicks, head coach Lloyd Pierce checked Carter into the game and the emotions began to hit him as the home crowd chanted. “I kind of made eye contact with coach (Pierce) and he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah,'” Carter said on the latest episode of “Winging it with Vince Carter and Annie Finberg.” “Right then, it’s like a chill just hit me.”
April 2, 2020 | 4:30 pm EDT Update

Knicks front office staying put

For now, Leon Rose is proceeding as status quo with an inherited front office in following an unofficial NBA hiring/firing stoppage with the world stopped cold. According to sources, Rose is actively holding scouting meetings with his staff via conference call/video regarding the draft. “I don’t see any teams hiring or firing during this,” one NBA source said. “That’s the sense.”
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Pelicans shooting guard JJ Redick and his wife, Chelsea, are spearheading a campaign that will provide millions of meals throughout south Louisiana while it battles the coronavirus. On Thursday, the Redicks, the Pelicans and the Lineage Logistics, a food transportation and distribution company, announced donations to Second Harvest Food Bank. Together, they aim to provide 1.8 million meals in 23 parishes.
April 2, 2020 | 4:21 pm EDT Update
Karl has not coached in the NBA since leaving the Kings. Cousins has suffered a number of serious injuries. And so, on April Fools’ Day, Karl decided to joke about a potential reunion, saying that both were headed back to the Kings.